A fast-track to trade or a fast-track to bad deals?

Pro (Jump to the con argument)

Approval would allow the U.S. to negotiate in our best interests

By Myron Brilliant, Tribune News Service

Trade promotion authority — the power of the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can enact or reject but cannot alter — is critical because growth and jobs at home depend on our ability to sell American goods and services to the 95 percent of the world’s customers living outside the United States.

Trade has been a bright spot for the U.S. economy over the past five years, with exports rising by more than 50 percent. About 1 in 4 manufacturing jobs depends on exports, and they pay wages that are typically 18 percent higher than those that aren’t. One in 3 acres on American farms is planted for consumers overseas.

However, the international playing field is often unfairly tilted against American workers and companies. While our market is generally open, U.S. exports face foreign tariffs that often soar into double digits as well as a tangle of nontariff barriers.

Trade agreements are the only way to tear down these barriers. By creating a level playing field, they help U.S. companies and the workers they employ compete in overseas markets. But without a proactive and determined trade agenda, we’ll be stuck on the outside looking in.

The benefits of our trade agreements are impressive. While the 20 countries where we have agreements in place represent just percent of the world’s population, they buy nearly half of U.S. exports. The United States even has a trade surplus with its 20 trade agreement partners.

Consider the potential of two major agreements now under negotiation. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) would open the Asia-Pacific’s dynamic markets to American goods and services.

TPP could boost U.S. exports by an annual $124 billion. Without it, Pacific nations will continue to sign pacts among themselves, putting U.S. exporters at a disadvantage.

Another promising deal in the works is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would further remove barriers between the United States and Europe.

TTIP would boost commerce and support some 740,000 new U.S. jobs, while driving comparable economic benefits across the pond.

However, the United States has never entered into a major trade deal without TPA. It’s based on the commonsense notion that Congress and the White House should work together on trade. Frankly, we could use more of that in Washington today.

TPA does not give the president a blank check; in fact, it strengthens the voice of Congress on trade. It lets lawmakers set objectives for trade negotiations and requires the administration to consult closely with Congress throughout trade talks. And, importantly, it gives lawmakers the final say on a trade deal in the form of an up-or-down vote.

TPA has been a key part of U.S. trade diplomacy since 1934 and has been regularly renewed. But it expired in 2007. Unless and until Congress renews it, the United States will be hamstrung in future negotiations.

You can’t be for trade and against TPA. Put simply, this is a chance for Congress and the White House to work together for the good of our country.

Lawmakers should cast their votes for growth and jobs at home, and the president must push members of his own party to support TPA. The U.S. business community will keep the pressure on until the job gets done.

Myron Brilliant is executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Con

It would commit us to deals that could lower standards, cost jobs

By Don Kusler, Tribune News Service

Some things improve with age; others just get worse over time.

Promoting unfair trade has always been a bad idea, but in the past year-and-a-half, it’s become clearer just how bad. Even so, Congress is about to consider a plan that would grease the way for more destructive trade deals. There’s more reason than ever to say no.

The plan is called “trade promotion authority” but is better known and better described as “fast track”: it speeds bad trade deals into effect by preventing Congress from improving them.

Fast track is not necessary. The U.S. has struck plenty of international pacts while still allowing Congress to fulfill its Constitutional duty to regulate trade.

But now multinational corporations and their friends in Washington want to push through the biggest, most dangerous deals of all time. They don’t want Congress to risk any potential profits by trying to make the deals better for workers, consumers, the environment or our civil liberties.

First up if fast track passes is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It would economically link a dozen countries with vastly different standards on worker rights, consumer safety and environmental protection.

A report released last month found that at least four of the TPP countries do not comply with international labor standards — that their workers are subject to continuing abuses on the job that their governments permit and sometimes promote. Rather than end such abuses, trade deals like the TPP tend to lower standards to allow them elsewhere.

Documents leaked last year from the TPP secret negotiations — only huge corporations have any access to the ongoing talks — reveal that proposed patent rules could make life-saving medicines harder to get for cancer patients and others.

Also revealed by the leaks were provisions that would give transnational corporations special rights to use private tribunals that circumvent our judicial system to attack our laws, regulations and even court decisions as “indirect expropriations” — a practice that would put future environmental protections and a host of other public interest policies in serious jeopardy and could cost taxpayers billions.

If this disastrous Pacific-spanning trade deal succeeds, soon after will come one that reaches east: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would spread the same threats to public health, the environment and democracy itself even further.

In addition to revealing more of what’s wrong with the bad deals that fast track will make possible, the past 18 months have also seen a change in the Congressional politics of trade.

Politicians from both parties are raising more and more questions about fast track and the huge trade deals that it will speed along. For years, a bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives has opposed trade agreements that sacrifice so many public interests purely for the profit of special interests. But now more members of the U.S. Senate — which has traditionally been a rubber stamp for trade agreements — are expressing doubts and urging caution.

With so many important issues already trapped in Washington gridlock — from health care to climate change — why add a controversial mechanism for facilitating unwise trade deals to the mix?

Members of Congress should not simply turn over their Constitutional rights or their duty to serve their constituents’ best interests.

International trade done right can benefit not only big businesses, but workers, consumers, economies and societies at large.

For it to do that, however, deals have to reflect the needs and values of whole nations, not just a few privileged, transnational interests. Deals like that can only be created in an open, democratic process.

Fast track would shut down that process. That’s why now more than ever, fast track needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.

Don Kusler is executive director of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy organization.

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