TPP and a bit of history

From Thomas Dewar, Public Citizen News release:


“… Also fueling congressional opposition to Fast Track is the abysmal outcome of the Obama administration’s only major trade pact to date, the U.S.-Korea FTA, which is the template for the TPP.  In contrast to Obama’s promises that the Korea deal would boost exports, in the agreement’s first year, U.S. exports to Korea fell 10 percent, imports from Korea rose and the U.S. trade deficit with Korea exploded by 37 percent. This equates to a net loss of approximately 40,000 U.S. jobs.

Opposition to Fast Track has been growing in Congress since the time of NAFTA and the WTO. The 1991 Fast Track grant passed in the House by a 27-vote margin. President Bill Clinton never was able to obtain Fast Track again after that grant expired. Clinton had Fast Track authority for only two of his eight years in office, and in 1998, the House explicitly rejected his request, with 171 Democratic and 71 GOP opposing Fast Track. President George W. Bush then spent two years and enormous political capital to pass Fast Track in 2002 by two votes. That delegation of Fast Track expired in 2007, and Congress rebuffed Bush’s request for an extension.

In 2008, candidate Obama promised to replace Fast Track with a more inclusive process. Historically, a new system of trade authority delegation has been created every few decades since 1890. But in recent months, Obama has ramped up his demand that Congress once again cede its constitutional trade authority via Fast Track.

“Fast Track is outdated 1970s technology being applied to 21st century realities, which is causing serious damage,” said Wallach. “It enables agreements that offshore U.S. jobs and expose our consumer and environmental laws to attack and rollback.”

Already a decade ago, one of Congress’ most ardent free traders, the late U.S. Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), who led the Democratic House effort to pass NAFTA, described why Fast Track was unacceptable:

“Trade is no longer primarily about tariffs and quotas. It’s about changing domestic laws. The constitutional authority to make law is at the heart of our role as a Congress and of our sovereignty as a nation. When international trade negotiators sit down to hammer out agreements, they are talking about harmonizing ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’ that may include everything from antitrust laws to food safety. I believe the President and the USTR should be able to negotiate trade deals as efficiently as possible … But that does not mean that Congress must concede to the Executive Branch its constitutional authority over foreign commerce and domestic law without adequate assurances that Congress will be an active participant in the process. Congress should be a partner, not a mere spectator or occasional consultant to the process. … Think about what may be bargained away at the negotiating table: our own domestic environmental protections … food safety laws … competition policies. That’s the air we breathe, the food our children eat, and the way Americans do business… The nature of trade has changed, and Fast Track authority must change with it. I ardently believe in the principles of free trade. But I will not put my constitutional authority over domestic law and my responsibility to my own constituents on a fast track to the executive branch.” (Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), Congressional Record, 147, 12/6/01, at H9025.

Prior to Fast Track and starting with Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, Congress gave Tariff Proclamation Authority to presidents. But it covered only tariffs, not the broad subject matter included under Fast Track. The mechanism allowed the executive branch to implement reciprocal tariff cuts only within bounds set by Congress. Prior to that, trade agreements were often approved as treaties by the Senate, with both chambers later also required to pass implementing legislation. Public Citizen’s 2013 book, “The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority, provides an in-depth history of U.S. trade authority.”  (unquote)