President Pushes for Fast Track Authority

The newly appointed U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has indicated that he along with President Barack Obama will continue to push and work with Congress to put “fast track” trade authority in place to help the U.S. finish talks with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP).  Indeed, on July 30 while delivering remarks on his economic agenda, the president issued a brief request for Congress to grant his administration Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and renew Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

During his speech, he said: “I’m asking Congress for the authority to negotiate the best trade deals possible for our workers, and combine it with robust training and assistance measures to make sure our workers have the support and the skills they need for this new global competition. And we’re going to have to sharpen our competitive edge in the global job marketplace.”

In conjunction with the speech, the White House released a fact sheet, which reads in part: “As part of his commitment to increase exports and the good-paying jobs supported by exports, President Obama will work with Congress to secure Trade Promotion Authority as part of a package that ensures American workers have the support and skills they need to compete in the global economy, including through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.”

The Fast Track mechanism involves special procedures for the negotiation, consideration, and implementation of trade agreements. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority over setting the terms of international commerce, and the Executive branch jurisdiction over negotiations with foreign nations. Fast Track, however, delegates Congresses authority to the Executive branch so that the administration is granted the power to negotiate trade agreements, draft implementing legislation to change U.S. law, and sign agreements into international law. Congresses involvement is restricted to 20 hours of debate and an up-or-down vote on the final bill with no amendments allowed. It was last passed by Congress in 2002 and expired in 2007.

The U.S. is now working on two trade deals of historic size—one with twenty-eight countries of the European Union, another with an assortment of Pacific-Rim nations. Each of these negotiations has the potential to significantly transform world trade patterns and provide unprecedented growth opportunities for the U.S. and the global economy.

SBEA and NSBA have long stated that free trade agreements are extremely important as they lower foreign barriers to our exports and produce a more level playing field. It is critical the president has the authority to negotiate trade agreements through TPA, as it will help provide new economic opportunities for American businesses, farmers, workers and consumers. New and expanded market access through trade agreements has been an important catalyst for increased small business exports.

In July, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced  the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2013 (S. 1357),to extend the TAA program, a critical job training and worker assistance program that helps strengthen the American workforce to be better equipped and more competitive. The bipartisan bill extends all TAA programs through 2020 and maintains training and assistance for workers in all sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, services and agriculture. Bipartisan, bicameral discussions among trade leaders on the Hill are continuing on TPA legislation, which could be introduced as early as September.