Fast Track

ImageLet’s not confuse Fast Track trade authority (TPA) with “free trade” legislation such as TPP.  It is possible to support one and oppose the other. Organizations which oppose Fast Track hoping to block TPP may do the public a disservice.

According to the Bloomberg report cited, “Congressional leaders who oversee trade policy introduced legislation today that would give President Barack Obama the fast-track authority he is seeking to enact three of the world’s largest accords.”

The Obama administration is seeking trade-promotion authority to smooth congressional passage of trade deals, including one being negotiated with a group of 11 Pacific region nations and another with the 28-nation European Union. Those pacts, to create the world’s largest free-trade zones, would link regions with about $44 trillion in annual economic output. The U.S. is also negotiating a services-trade agreement with a group of nations that would cover about half of the world’s economy.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan joined leaders of the Senate Finance Committee to offer legislation on so-called trade-promotion authority, which subjects trade deals to an up-or-down vote by Congress.

“The TPA legislation we are introducing today will make sure that these trade deals get done, and get done right,” Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, said in a statement. “This is our opportunity to tell the administration — and our trading partners — what Congress’s negotiating priorities are.”

Baucus’s bill, co-sponsored by Republicans Camp and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, updates labor and environmental protections, adds provisions to guard intellectual property from cyber theft and for the first time seeks to prevent currency manipulation by trading partners, according to a fact sheet. It also ensures that members of Congress have access to the negotiating texts and lets them participate in the talks.

“This legislation strips Congress of its defining democratic characteristic — its check-and-balance structure,” Michael Brune, executive director of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club, said today in a statement. He said lawmakers should be able to fully debate and amend trade deals.

I can’t agree with Michael Brune:

  • There is no reason to believe Congress capable of contributing to trade negotiations: better that the United States speak with a single voice.
  • If Congress proposes amendments, the likely result would be a mish-mash of loopholes for special interests such as those in the recently enacted Omnibus Spending Bill.

If we are to have reasonable trade agreements, Fast Track legislation may be indispensable.

In a WETM feature, Tom Reed’s spokespersons muddle the issue:

Congressman Reed’s campaign says … the passage of a Trade Promotion Authority agreement, or TPA, which is what the protesters are calling a “fast track”, would stop the Obama Administration’s closed door meetings and achieve the same transparency results that the DeLauro-Miller letter calls for.

I don’t think so — the Delauro-Miller letter, cited below, goes on at great length.  It is unlikely that the Baucus bill, S. 1900, is equivalent. Further, Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI, has proposed a rival TPA bill which may or may not address all of the concerns in the Delauro-Miller letter.

According to Congressman Reed’s campaign, every president since Franklin Roosevelt has had trade negotiating authority under a TPA.

Whether it is the Baucus bill, the Levin bill, or some other proposal, TPA authority enacted in 2014 will likely have little to do with whatever authority may have been granted to FDR — Tom misleads us by suggesting that the issues and answers haven’t changed in decades. When Tom writes “what the protesters are calling a ‘fast track,'” he links opponents of Fast Track legislation with an image of protesters — a smear. Many, including the supporters listed in the Bloomberg article, refer to what Tom calls TPA as Fast Track.

Supporters of fast-track authority including a coalition of about 160 groups, led by organizations including the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers.

© William Hungerford – January 2014

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8 Responses to Fast Track

  1. philebersole says:

    The requirement of an up or down vote, with no amendments, is reasonable. Twelve nations are potentially parties to the TPP. If the legislature of each nation introduced separate amendments, the negotiation would be an endless process.

    The problem with Fast Track is the extremely tight deadline for making a decision on an extremely complex proposal with which Congress as a whole is not familiar.

    The relevant committees of the House and Senate have a maximum of 45 days for hearings on the agreement, after which the House and Senate must decide, yes or no, within 15 days. There is a maximum of 20 hours of floor debate.

    This is too little time for discussion of a proposal with such far-reaching and permanent consequences. I am suspicious of the reasons for wanting to push through to a vote without giving Congress time to be fully informed of what they are voting on.


  2. Deb Meeker says:

    I must disagree with both the reasons stated to disallow the legislature of each trade agreement partner to have amendments. Since hopefully, each partner’s legislature is beholding to those whom elected them. It is very reasonable to me that those elected should have the time to make CLEAR exactly what they’re making law for their citizens (or make clear is is not for the benefit of their citizens).

    Time is a consideration, and we must not wait to be informed? Why? Will international trade just stop if time is allowed to pass without clarification? I don’t think so. Another trade agreement, NAFTA, was pushed though with a Fast Track authority, and those who have read about the results, in job loss for the US and the use of third world countries for slum factories, have little doubt; the TPP should be discussed.

    The TPP is not explained. What has been leaked of draft proposals, leaves little to the imagination as to who would be the big winners of such a deal. I firmly believe, if Fast Tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership is allowed, there will be moaning and tearing of hair, accompanied with the words “Oh if we had only known it meant THAT!”.

    Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Whether or not this particular US Congress is fit to deal with the totality of the TPP in a mature matter, is of less consequence to me, than disallowing corporate interests to railroad yet another “too late, it’s done” trade pact.


  3. whungerford says:

    If Congress believes that the TPA proposal doesn’t allow enough time for study, couldn’t they easily change the proposal to allow more? I am suspicious that the 113th Congress wouldn’t use the time wisely no matter how much was allowed.


  4. whungerford says:

    Rejecting Fast Track in order to block trade treaties that might or might not be in our interest is much like the Senate refusing to vote on extending unemployment benefits or firearm regulation, or like the House refusing to consider Immigration Reform. If TPP is unnecessary or hurtful, it would be better for Congress to reject it for that reason than tear it to pieces in a partisan feeding frenzy.


  5. philebersole says:

    The tight deadlines are an integral part of Fast Track. That is why the procedure is called Fast Track. Its purpose is to get a “yes” or “no” decision in a short time.

    Congress is, of course, free to adopt an alternative procedure or a flexible procedure, but it wouldn’t be Fast Track


  6. Deb Meeker says:

    I disagree William, it is nothing like the Senate refusing to vote on solely national legislation that relates to only our country. The main difference being those topics are discussed to death, with every side’s opinion represented, with data to back up their decision, and public discussion abounds. It may be that public opinion does not always win in the end, but the country knows who stand for what and why; and there is remedy in the next election to change the decision makers.
    Trade agreements allow for no such remedy.

    The Fast Track allows 60 days, a ridiculous time frame to even attempt to begin understanding all of it’s coded law, national, and international aspects.This after 4 years of collaboration between corporate and partner nations to even come up with a (revealed) draft.
    I agree with you on the rejection idea, rather than pass a trade deal with no idea what it means for millions of people all over the world. But, the fly in the ointment of that idea, of course, is that the bulk of what should be considered is kept secret. So how does one judge good or bad, hurtful or supportive, when there is little to no information to judge with?

    Transparency would go a long way, in affecting my attitude, as to whether or not the TPP should even be considered. Until then, one is forced to judge the unknown, with the historical yardsticks of CAFTA and NAFTA, which, in my opinion, have not lived up to the hype. If anything those two trade agreements have hurt every signatory in one way or other.


  7. whungerford says:

    This is said to be a summary of the Baukus bill:

    Click to access TPA%20One%20Pager.pdf


  8. solodm says:

    Thank you. This of course would take me 4 years to study in order to have anything near an educated opinion on. In the meantime I agree with the opinion of Ms. Weatherford in the concern that “..During President Obama’s 2008 presidential run, he pledged to replace fast-track.” I have not read or heard why the President would have changed his mind 180 degrees, and yet “..But President Obama has come out in support of fast-track authority for TPP and TAFTA, and most recently, the Camp-Baucus bill.” .

    This portion below, from your link, appears to uphold my contention that new trade rules would prevent remedy for common people to stop corporate and/or another sovereignty takeover of rights, lands, and law:
    “Updates Labor and Environment: Updated provisions reflect the United States’ most recent trade agreements, to require trading partners to adopt, maintain, and not waive or derogate from measures implementing internationally recognized core labor standards in a manner affecting trade and investment and multilateral environmental agreements to which the United States is a party, with the same dispute settlement and remedies as for other enforceable obligations.”

    Further as I mentioned, there is clear and documented proof, that previous Fast Tracked trade partnerships, touting great improvement for all involved, have in many circumstances provided the opposite. …… and

    I do not believe in isolationism, nor do I believe all trade deals must be bad. I do believe there could be an acceptable way to accomplish them, but making the process an opaque, rushed mandate of “now or never”, put’s me in mind of a car salesman with a great bait and switch pitch.


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