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Congress Needs More Influence in Trade Agreements, Groups Say

Friday, Sept 12, 2014  Trade Report
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Hundreds of national, regional, state and local public interest groups sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden Sept. 10 setting forth their vision of an enhanced process for pursuing future trade agreements. The letter expresses opposition to the “fast track model of trade authority” and says it “must be replaced with a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements” that “would help deliver trade agreements that could benefit workers, communities, and the environment.” Wyden has been considering how a bipartisan trade promotion authority bill introduced earlier this year (S. 1900/H.R. 3830) might be improved to secure congressional approval and has said he favors a “smart track” approach to the issue, though there have been few details as to what that might involve.

The letter states that “the old fast track trade promotion authority is simply not appropriate given the subject matter covered by today’s pacts” and that the signatories oppose the pending TPA legislation because it “replicates the overly broad delegation of Congress’s constitutional authorities … and allows the executive branch to unilaterally select negotiating partner countries, negotiate terms, decide when negotiations are complete and then sign a final pact before the full Congress has had an opportunity to approve the contents.” Instead, the letter says, “a 21st century trade authority that includes enhanced mechanisms for Congress to exercise its constitutional authority over U.S. trade policy is needed.” The groups call for this enhanced process to include the following elements.

- Congress should set criteria, including with respect to human and labor rights compliance, environmental and public health standards, and market access opportunities for U.S. exporters, to determine whether a country is an appropriate trading partner for the United States. Congress must also have the opportunity to determine that a country proposed by the executive branch does not meet such criteria before negotiations commence.

- Congress should set mandatory negotiating objectives outlining what all U.S. trade agreements must and must notinclude and must have the opportunity to add agreement-specific objectives.

- The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative must conduct broad, specific and systematic congressional and public briefings on the progress that negotiators are making toward meeting the established negotiating objectives. Negotiating texts should be made available to the public so that all stakeholders have the information to provide informed input to elected and appointed officials on the implications of the trade deal.

- When executive branch negotiators believe that they have concluded negotiations, a final text must be released publicly and Congress must certify that the negotiating objectives have been satisfied before the text of a pact can be deemed final. Only such certification could trigger an expedited vote by Congress to approve the agreement.

- Congress would vote on trade agreements using expedited procedures only if the requirements enumerated above were met.

- A sizeable minority in either chamber should be able to get a privileged floor vote on a resolution to withdraw expedited consideration for any pact for a variety of reasons, such as lack of congressional or public consultation/input or clear breach of negotiating objectives.

- Trade negotiating authority must be considered in conjunction with related trade and economic policy legislation.