Congressional tax-writing committees agreed on a bill to give the Obama administration “fast track” authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other free-trade agreements. Agricultural groups whole-heartedly came out in support of the proposed legislation.
The bill is not specific to the TPP but would give Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to this and future administrations to negotiate free trade deals without expectation that small points in trade bills would be changed by Congress.
Congress following final trade negotiations would have the power to vote in favor or not in favor of a free trade agreement like the TPP, but it would deny lawmakers the right to amend the negotiated trade deal, according to Washington media reports. Therefore, an up or down vote would allow the trade agreement to go into place or not.
Most of the recent talk has been around the TPP. Approval of the TPP would be the largest U.S. trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The American Farm Bureau Federation was the first to announce its support of the TPA bill in a nationwide news release. The AFBF contends that the U.S. had a record $152 billion in agricultural exports in 2014 and TPA would be a plus for keeping the export trend going higher.
“TPA streamlines and strengthens our position at the bargaining table,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The growth of U.S. agriculture depends on our ability to compete in the international marketplace. We will cede potential markets and economic leadership to our competitors if we cannot negotiate and ratify trade agreements through TPA.”
TPA was last enacted in 2002 and expired in 2007, noted the American Feed Industry Association. “While AFIA applauds the introduction of this bill, Congress needs to act swiftly to enact TPA. Without TPA, United States negotiators will lack authority and have limited ability and leverage when negotiating free trade agreements,” said AFIA President and CEO Joel Newman.
American Soybean Association President Wade Cowan said, Trade Promotion Authority has always been the necessary first step in reaching trade agreements that help drive demand for soybeans.
“The clock is ticking. Major trade agreements are under negotiation in the European Union and Asia Pacific region. The rest of the world is not waiting for us,” said Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “We need Trade Promotion Authority to ensure the United States can negotiate the best possible deal for American farmers, businesses and consumers. It’s time for Congress to act.”
The National Association of Wheat Growers applauded what it sees as bipartisan support to get a bill into final wording and headed toward a congressional vote. “U.S. farmers are eager to sell high-quality wheat throughout the world, but artificial trade barriers stand in their way,” said NAWG President Brett Blankenship.
Of course, support of the TPA is not universal, with many outside of agriculture not supporting the bill’s passage. “TPA pretends to be about trade, but in reality it is about protecting corporate profits above all else and defining our national security in terms of giving away our jobs, depressing our wages and then rewarding the responsible multinational corporations, often U.S. based, with guaranteed profits in the nations where they invest,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of American (CWA), in one of the first non-ag reactions.