The most important piece of trade legislation Congress has dealt with in years was introduced in the House and Senate last week. The “Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014” sets out the parameters for renewing trade promotion authority (TPA), originally known as “fast track,” in order to ease eventual passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other agreements through Congress. There will be a lot of debate in the coming months about what U.S. trade policy should look like, and this TPA bill will do a lot to establish the agenda.
The new bill largely mirrors the last TPA grant in 2002. The basic idea of fast track is that Congress agrees to hold an up-or-down vote on any trade agreement submitted by the president, while the president agrees to adopt a series of negotiating objectives laid out by Congress.
I’ve explained before why I think TPA is not necessary right now to get agreements through Congress and why it could even make the TPP negotiations more difficult. However, that argument is temporarily moot since this TPA bill is on the table and will apply not only to the TPP but to the U.S.-EU trade agreement and any World Trade Organzation negotiations for the next four years.
Defeat of this bill could quite possibly kill any chance the president has to conclude trade agreements before the end of his term. Also, the negotiating objectives included in the new bill are not as bad as I had feared.
At this point, we should be talking about what’s in the new TPA bill and how it might change as the debate heats up.