Fast Track Is a Waste of Time

As Cato’s Dan Ikenson has pointed out before, the Obama administration likes grand trade policy proposals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the proposed U.S.-EU trade agreement, but isn’t putting in the political effort needed on the domestic side to secure approval of these agreements.

The president’s decision to nominate Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) to be the next U.S. ambassador to China is a perfect example of this problem.  Three years into negotiations toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the president finally decided to seek fast track trade promotion authority this fall, and Baucus has been instrumental in putting together a bipartisan bill.  With Baucus being sent to China, there will be no prominent Democrats in either the House or the Senate supportive of fast track.

This development should surely not engender confidence in the ultimate success of the TPP, but there’s one counterintuitive way to help bring much-needed focus to U.S. trade policy:  Stop worrying about fast track.

Fast track authority is an arrangement between the president and Congress designed to ease the passage of trade agreements.  Congress agrees to hold a timely, up-or-down vote on future trade agreements.  In exchange, the president agrees to adopt a series of negotiating objectives demanded by Congress.

Many trade advocates believe that fast track authority is necessary to gain Congressional approval of free trade agreements, but I have a new bulletin out today explaining how, right now, fast track will do more harm than good.

First, with the current partisan alignment in Congress, we don’t need fast track to pass the TPP.  And second, the negotiating objectives Congress imposes through fast track include bad policies that could disrupt the negotiations at this late stage, and even delay completion of the agreement.

If there were a chance that Congress would use the fast track bill to make the TPP a better free trade agreement, then I would support it.  But there is absolutely no indication that anyone in Congress is going to push for that.  Taking up fast track now accomplishes nothing of value, but will serve as divisive political theater while ultimately reducing the quality of the TPP.

You can learn more by reading the bulletin.