Senate Struggles To Advance Obama’s Trade Promotion Authority


   Dating back to the days of President Gerald Ford, Congress has granted both Democrats and Republicans in the White House the authority to win approval of international trade deals with an up or down vote, rather than die a slow death from hundreds of amendments. But as opposition to this legislation –known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – continues to build in Congress, it’s looking increasingly difficult to advance any type of new trade deal.
   Both members of the president’s own party and conservative Republicans are lining up to oppose TPA, albeit for a variety of different reasons. Some want to deal with problems they see with currency manipulation and transparency, some want more protections for organized labor, some just don’t want to give President Obama any more negotiating authority.
   Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch hopes to release a TPA or “fast track” bill in April, but the committee’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden, hasn’t agreed on the language yet.
   When asked recently about the status, all Wyden would say is “The discussions are continuing,” The Senate is supposed to take the lead on passing TPA.
   Sen. Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says he had hoped that TPA would be one area that the Administration and the new Congress could work together and vice versa.
   “But lately, that’s not been the case,” Roberts noted. Instead of “fast track” he said Wyden wants “fast track, plus,” which would give members of the Finance and Ways and Means Committees the ability to amend the agreement. 
   “That’s been a real monkey-wrench in the gear box,” he added.
   While Congress delays, why should major trading partners agree to cut a deal like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could significantly expand U.S. agricultural exports and boost prices?
   The TPP is the most significant trade negotiation in a generation, and promises significant economic benefits for American businesses, workers, farmers, ranchers, and service providers, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. The Trans Pacific Partnership involves the United States and Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
   According to an analysis supported by the Peterson Institute, a TPP agreement provides global income benefits of an estimated $223 billion per year, by 2025. Real income benefits to the United States are an estimated $77 billion per year. The TPP could generate an estimated $305 billion in additional world exports per year, by 2025, including an additional $123.5 billion in U.S. exports.
   Japanese leaders brought up the TPA issue during a meeting recently with a congressional delegation that included House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb. Negotiators aren’t expected to close the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement until Congress passes TPA, which would prevent lawmakers from amending the TPP agreement.
   During the meetings, Japanese officials didn’t specifically say they were waiting for TPA to pass before they made their best offer on the stubborn agricultural and auto issues, but “connecting all the dots,” that was “a point that I took away from our meeting,” Smith said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. 
   Ryan impressed on the Japanese that it was important to get the agreement finalized this year to avoid it getting sidetracked in the 2016 U.S. election campaign, Smith said.
   Smith said he left Japan optimistic that there will be a deal. “The encouraging part is they understand the importance of being involved in the TPP,” said Smith, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which would handle both TPA and the TPP agreement.”
   “It’s still a lift, let me be very clear,” Smith said of the TPP. “These issues need to be resolved. But given the importance of the issue, I’m hopeful we’ll find ourselves with a workable product.”
   During the two days in Tokyo, the lawmakers met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as Japan’s top trade official, Minister of Economic Revitalization Akira Amari, and Foreign Minster Fumio Kishida. Earlier, the delegation stopped in Singapore and Malaysia – two other TPP countries. 
   The National Pork Producers Council took the stance last year that Japan should be dropped from the talks unless it agreed to give significant market access to U.S. farm groups, but the group’s leadership believes there has been progress.
   “Nobody will really know until there’s a deal, but we are withholding judgment,” the group’s CEO, Neil Dierks, told reporters at a recent briefing. “Our position remains reduced tariffs, increased access, but we know without TPA, even if there’s a perfect deal, it’s all for naught most likely.” ∆
   SARA WYANT: Editor of Agri-Pulse, a weekly e-newsletter covering farm and rural policy. To contact her, go to:
   Senior Editor Philip Brasher contributed to this story.
MidAmerica Farm Publications, Inc
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