Top bipartisan leaders from both the Senate and the House of Representatives of United States Congress jointly introduced the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill last month. The legislation is seen as crucial for final passage of pending negotiations, most notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks. Here are some tips regarding the bill.
Q. What is TPA? Does it have anything to do with the TPP talks?
A. TPA – previously known as the fast track negotiating authority – makes it easier for the president of the United States to negotiate international trade agreements. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority over trade negotiations with foreign governments. Therefore, without TPA, Congress can amend the trade agreements which the government has concluded before approving them.
Q. Does it mean there is no meaning in the government concluding trade negotiations?
A. Yes. That is why TPA is introduced to delegate Congress’ authority to the government for a limited period of time and under certain conditions so that the administration is granted power to negotiate trade agreements. It expired in 2007, but a new bill is introduced in Congress in January. If the bill is passed, Congress will not be able to amend trade agreements concluded by the government or filibuster to delay it, although it retains the right to accept or reject the agreements.
Q. So Congress won’t be able to alter an agreement once it is signed by the president. Will this have an influence on the TPP negotiations as well?
A. Without TPA, other countries will be reluctant to make their best offers on sensitive issues in trade negotiations, and it will be difficult also for the U.S. government to make concessions if there is a possibility that they may be reopened by Congress. The TPP talks are already complicated enough since 12 countries are negotiating over more than 20 sectors, and the U.S. holds a key to make the negotiations successful as the leading negotiator.
Q. It indeed looks complicated.
A. That is why many call for the need to introduce the TPA legislation in order to conclude the TPP talks.
Q. Is the TPA bill likely to be passed in Congress?
A. It doesn’t seem easy because there are many opponents. Many Democrats do not prefer free trade over fear that it could lead to job losses at home. On the other hand, many Republicans back free trade, but some are against the TPA as the legislation weakens the power of Congress.
Q. Unless the bill is passed, does that mean the U.S. government won’t pressure Japan to reduce tariffs to conclude the TPP talks?
A. We can’t be so optimistic. The ministerial meeting of the TPP member countries is scheduled to start next week, and some people say the U.S. government will still try to conclude the talks even without the TPA. The U.S. will continue pressuring Japan to abolish tariffs on key agricultural products such as rice and beef. The midterm Congressional elections are expected in November, and if Republicans win in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, there would be higher possibility of the bill being passed.
(Feb. 12, 2014)