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COLUMN: Deal or No Deal? How Trade Promotion Authority Strengthens Congress’ Role in Negotiating Free Trade Agreements

June 5, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

By now, you have probably heard at least some debate about trade promotion authority (TPA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Congress. Don’t get lost in all the acronyms. The fact is TPA passage is needed to improve negotiations of free trade deals so that they move forward with close consultation with Congress. Strengthening ties with U.S. trading partners through effectively-negotiated free trade agreements can offer major economic benefits to the nation as well as Central Washington agriculture growers and producers, small businesses, and manufacturers. Congress must secure America’s global trade advantage by approving TPA.

What is TPA?

TPA is a partnership between Congress and the Administration to secure the best trade deal possible. Currently, the President has constitutional authority to negotiate trade agreements. TPA would empower the legislative branch and keep the President accountable by requiring close consultation with Congress. Under TPA, Congress would be charged with setting 150 specific objectives for trade negotiations. Those categories include agricultural trade, labor standards, and many more. If the President does not follow Congress’ instructions, Congress can turn off TPA protections and remove the streamlined voting procedures. The text of any completed agreement must be made public for 60 days before a deal can be signed by the President. Congress must also vote on any final trade deal negotiated under TPA. In short: without Congressional approval and public transparency, there is no deal.

What is TPP?

TPP is a pending agreement that would create a free trade zone encompassing U.S. and Asia-Pacific nations. TPP would open markets by reducing tariffs and lowering trade barriers between the U.S. and 11 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Mexico. In order to negotiate TPP effectively, American trade representatives first need approval of TPA. Additionally, this deal could greatly increase the United States presence in the region, providing a direct counter to China. TPP is still being negotiated and has not yet been presented to Congress. Approval of TPA would ensure that trade negotiators are fully complying with Congress’ intent to achieve the best trade deal possible.

What is the impact of free trade on Washington State’s export economy?

Washington businesses and agriculture growers and producers already engage in international trade with customers in Pacific Rim nations. More than 900,000 jobs in Washington depend on trade. As one of the most trade-supported economies in the nation, Washington has much to gain if Congress approves TPA and TPP.

Foreign competitors are serious about approving their own trade agreements. Just last week, China approved a free trade deal with South Korea, lifting tariffs on 70% of agricultural goods between the two nations over two decades. America cannot afford to be left behind: in the U.S. overall, more than 38 million American jobs— one in five of all U.S. jobs—are tied to trade. America cannot miss the chance to level the playing field and improve trading ties with Pacific customers. To negotiate the best trade deals possible and open overseas markets to American exporters, Congress should approve trade promotion authority.