Bipartisan agreement on trade policy should permit new trade agreements to go forward

Pending trade agreements between the U.S. and Panama, Peru, Columbia and South Korea are back on the front burner after a sort of “domestic trade agreement” was finalized in late June. The new bipartisan deal on U.S. trade policy should permit these and future trade agreements between the United States and other nations to gain a more receptive hearing in Congress.

The Bipartisan Trade Deal covers such areas as labor issues, the environment, intellectual property, investment, government procurement and port security, describing how each of these subjects should be handled in future trade agreements.

A number of the points agreed upon had been sources of heated controversy for years. So reaching an understanding on them is a signal achievement.

Ambassador Susan Schwab, the United States Trade Representative, represented the Bush Administration in the talks with Congress. Heading up the negotiations for Congress were Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA), Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). Rep. Rangel and Sen. Baucus chair the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, respectively. These two Committees have most of the jurisdiction over U.S. trade agreements. Rep. McCrery and Sen. Grassley are the top Republicans on the two Committees. Schwab and the four Congressional leaders signed the final document on June 26.

While this agreement should help facilitate some of the trade agreements that are currently pending — those with Panama, Peru, Columbia and South Korea — it is not clear what happens then. Congress’ grant of “trade promotion authority” to the President has expired, and there is no indication that Congress will renew it before President Bush leaves office in January 2009. “Trade Promotion Authority” permits a President to negotiate trade agreements with foreign countries and place them before Congress for a simple “yes” or “no” vote. In other words, under TPA, Congress does not have the authority to rewrite the trade deals that have been negotiated between the US and foreign governments.

It is possible that the current Doha Development Agenda round of trade negotiations may lead to a new global trade deal. In that case, Congress may well renew TPA, at least for a vote on that deal. But then again, maybe not.

So the Bipartisan Trade Deal, as important as it is, may end up applying only to those four trade deals that are currently pending.

To maintain the momentum of trade agreements, SBEA supports a renewed grant of Trade Promotion Authority for President Bush, just as we have supported such authority for every U.S. President since our organization was founded.

To review a summary of the Bipartisan Trade Deal, please go to: