Yesterday, Congress introduced Trade Promotion Authority legislation, also known as TPA or “fast track” — a series of guidelines for trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership the Obama administration is currently working on.
When OFA supporters had the chance to ask one of the President’s closest advisors about the administration’s plans to pursue a progressive trade agreement, we heard a lot of questions about what it would look like, and on the process surrounding how it gets done.
Now that Congress has taken a step forward, it’s time for an update.
Let’s start with the basics: What’s the TPA?
Simply put, it’s how Congress sets the rules of the road for trade negotiations. They set guidelines that the President and the administration use to negotiate an agreement with other nations.
Trade agreements typically take years to negotiate, and though the TPA is often called “fast track,” that’s a bit of a misnomer. TPA is a bill like any other (it must go through both the Senate and the House, and then be signed by the President), and it’s just the first step in a months-long process of public and congressional review before any deal would be voted on. This has been the trade agreement process for decades. In fact, presidents on both sides of the aisle have been relying on Congress to pass versions of the TPA since 1974.
What happens after TPA?
The rules set by Congress through the TPA guide the framework for the final trade agreement — the President’s team will then negotiate the deal on the international stage according to the principles laid out, and if the bill released yesterday is passed, they will bring the finished deal to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
The good news is that this bill ensures progressive values, like enforceable labor and environment standards, will be part of the agreement — and that the entire process is transparent.
Why should people pay attention now?
It’s pretty important for working families and for the economy that we get this right. U.S. exports — supported by expanding trade — have contributed nearly a third of our economic growth in the recovery, supporting more than 11.7 million jobs according to the International Trade Administration, and almost 300,000 small and medium-sized businesses in every state according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Trade agreements are also our best chance to set enforceable labor and environmental protections with new trading partners, instead of letting China set rules that put our workers at a disadvantage.
President Obama has been clear about one big part of this: We can’t repeat mistakes of the past, when workers weren’t well represented. As he said a few weeks ago, “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype. That’s why I’ve made it clear that I won’t sign any agreement that doesn’t put American workers first.”
You can learn more about the President’s approach to crafting a progressive trade agreement, and the process behind the TPA in this blog from the White House:
You probably have friends who have questions about this, too. Please forward this email along — and stay tuned. We’ll keep you updated on what happens from here.
Thanks — more soon,
Organizing for Action