The Obama Administration and Congress have what many experts view as a critically important opportunity to create jobs, expand trade and manufacturing, and improve the global rules of international trade. This opportunity comes by way of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade negotiations, which are now drawing to a close. If approved, TPP would be the largest U.S. free trade agreement, involving a total of 12 countries and more than 40% of all global trade.
The Administration has called TPP the “gold standard free trade agreement for the 21st century,” and U.S. negotiators have tackled important new issues in the course of the negotiations. For example, TPP would for the first time impose disciplines and requirements on state-owned enterprises. This has the potential to greatly assist U.S. companies and industries who are forced to compete with foreign government-backed entities around the globe. Other important new provisions address barriers to digital trade and e-commerce.
Congress and the Administration now need to pass trade promotion authority (TPA), previously known as ‘fast-track” authority, in order to provide a framework for TPP and other trade negotiations, and to allow an up-or-down vote on TPP in Congress. However, the Administration and Congressional Republicans do not appear to have the necessary votes to approve TPA and TPP as they currently stand. Many Democrats, and some Republicans as well, either oppose TPP or have not yet committed, but are looking for a solid reason to vote in support.
There is a straightforward way to bring Congress more solidly on board. The road to passage of TPA and TPP requires trade law enforcement – and more specifically, strengthening of our trade laws. Since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994, the WTO has become essential for challenging trade law violations around the world. Unfortunately, WTO panels—and to some extent U.S. courts—have made decisions that have gradually weakened the trade laws over the last 20 years. This makes it much more difficult for U.S. companies and industries to challenge unfair trade practices such as dumping, subsidies, quotas, and other barriers that exist in China, Russia, and around the world.
TPA is an opportunity to shore up our U.S. trade laws, ensuring that U.S. companies and workers have legal recourse when unfair trade harms them. Several proposals are on the table and have bipartisan support. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rob Portman of Ohio have championed the ENFORCE Act, bipartisan legislation to address evasion and circumvention of our trade laws. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has proposed the Leveling the Playing Field Act, a set of modest trade law improvements that would help the Commerce Department to administer the trade laws. Both the Senate and House of Representatives have approved legislation to treat widespread currency manipulation as a countervailable subsidy. Other trade law strengthening ideas exist. These proposals are WTO consistent, and they are supported by our trade enforcement agencies.
Our lawmakers say over and over again that the United States shouldn’t enact new trade agreements until it properly enforces the old ones. Congress has a chance to do exactly that by including trade law strengthening provisions either directly in the TPA legislation, or in separate bills that will also receive a vote as TPA and TPP are considered. Congress and the Administration should make this commitment a priority. If they do, it will build help support from enough Congressmen and Senators to ensure passage of TPP and TPA.