A funny thing has happened to the Offshoring Lobby groups that pushed so hard (and successfully) for Congress to give President Obama fast track trade negotiating authority. Now that they’ve seen the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal whose passage they’ve also urged, several have decided they don’t like the core provision of fast track trade negotiating authority.
Central to the case for fast track – now officially known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – is that preventing Congress from monkeying around with the final text of trade agreements negotiated by presidents and their aides is vital to persuading America’s interlocutors to negotiate seriously. If American lawmakers could amend the deal at will, why would foreign leaders put forward their best offers, especially if they might anger powerful domestic constituencies?
That’s what U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has made unmistakably clear. In a late-2014 article in Foreign Affairs, Mr. Obama’s chief trade diplomat wrote, “By ensuring that Congress will consider trade agreements as they have been negotiated by the executive branch, TPA gives U.S. trading partners the necessary confidence to put their best and final offers on the table.”
The Republican leaders who have supported the president’s trade agenda agreed as well. According to Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch of Utah, TPA “allows for trade deals to be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote, an incentive for negotiating nations to put their best offer forward for any deal.” And before he was elected Speaker and chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan contended (in an article co-authored with Texas Republican Senator and current presidential candidate Ted Cruz, “By establishing TPA, Congress will send a signal to the world. America’s trading partners will know that the U.S. is trustworthy and then put their best offers on the table. America’s rivals will know that the U.S. is serious and won’t abandon the field.”
When Congress was considering fast track, moreover, leading business groups strongly echoed this line. As specified in a statement from the Trade Benefits America coalition that spearheaded the pro-fast track lobbying campaign, fast track historically ”has provided our trade negotiating partners with a degree of comfort that the United States is committed to the international trade negotiating process and the trade agreements we negotiate.”
One of the coalition’s major members, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), was even more explicit: “Without U.S. trade negotiating authority, other countries will be unwilling to negotiate with the United States for fear that U.S. commitments and concessions would not hold weight. In particular, they would be unwilling to put important politically sensitive concessions on the table.”
Last week, however, some of these organizations were changing their tune. In a statement calling for Congress to pass the TPP, the Business Roundtable declared that it also wanted to administration “to quickly address the remaining issues that impact certain business sectors in order to ensure the broadest possible benefits to all sectors of U.S. business, which will enable the broadest support possible for the TPP.” Huh? It’s true that Congress can attempt to clear up purported ambiguities in the text when it writes implementing legislation, but as for changing the text itself? Sorry, but that’s a no-no under TPA. Unless the Roundtable wants to reopen the entire negotiation?
Similarly, the NFTC reported that it is “encouraged by discussions that are underway between Congress and the Administration to address provisions in the agreement in order to further improve trade and investment liberalization, and strengthen the system of international trade and investment disciplines and procedures, including dispute settlement, for all of American business. Early resolution of areas for improvement identified by the business community will speed approval by Congress in 2016.”
With due respect, what on earth are they talking about other than the aforementioned clarifications and interpretations that unfortunately are entirely unilateral, and have no standing under the new TPP regime?
It seems that when the Offshoring Lobby touted the importance of banning Congressional amendments to TPP, it meant all amendments except its own. You can’t blame its organizations for seeking such blatant favoritism; it’s their job. Now we’ll see if Congress believes that enforcing the principle of equality under the law is its job.
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