In what is expected to be a difficult process and with a split between the president and many Democratic members, efforts to renew Trade Promotion Authority cleared a major hurdle last week when both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee passed legislation to renew TPA for six years.
A majority of the Democrat and Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee voted for the bill. The vote in the House Ways and Means Committee saw only two Democrats supporting the bill along with the Republican members. This is an indication of the political split this issue faces when the full House of Representatives considers the bill possibly this week. This was similar to what happened when TPA was reauthorized in 2001.
The most contentious item considered by the Senate Finance Committee was Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) amendment that would have required the administration to include enforceable currency manipulation provisions in international trade agreements. Portman and his supporters argued that the administration was not doing enough on this issue and it was needed to help workers and to level the playing field.
The administration along with the supporters of TPA opposed the Portman amendment. In a letter to the committee, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew said, “Enforceable currency disciplines would impair our already successful efforts addressing currency practices through our bilateral and multilateral engagement and could grant other countries a legal basis to interfere with the flexibility of U.S. policymakers to take the steps necessary to protect jobs, support growth and ensure continued price stability in the United States.”
Others warned that if this amendment was included then the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement would not happen. Portman’s amendment failed (11-15) but he plans to bring it up again when the TPA bill is considered by the full Senate. Supporters of TPA said the bill includes a number of important leaps forward in trade policy.
- Updates negotiating objectives to reflect the consensus on trade that has emerged over the last decade, such as the need to address labor and environmental issues, to take on unfair competition from state-owned enterprises, and to protect a free and open internet.
- Requires increased transparency during trade negotiations â mandating, by law, that trade agreements be made public months before the president can sign them and months more before Congress is asked to consider them.
- Creates new opportunities for congressional oversight and engagement. It includes strong sovereignty safeguards that make it absolutely clear that nothing in our trade agreements can change U.S. law without Congressional approval.
- Requires that trade agreements encourage good governance and the rule of law, which are key to promoting democracy.
The House and Senate leadership plan to move the bills forward as soon as possible.