TPA Bill Delayed as Leaders Spar on Details
While supporters of trade promotion authority legislation had hoped it would be formally introduced by the end of February, press reports indicate that a disagreement between two key lawmakers has stalled forward progress.
TPA would give the House and Senate a fairly short timeframe within which to approve or reject, with no amendments, legislation implementing free trade agreements negotiated by the executive branch such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could be concluded in the near future, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. In return, the bill would specify congressional objectives for trade agreement negotiations that the White House would be expected to honor. TPA is widely seen as critical for concluding TPP and TTIP because, as U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman has said, “our trading partners want to know that when they give us that final concession … that’s the agreement that will be voted on.”
Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees have been actively working together to produce a bill that would be acceptable to both parties. In addition, Obama administration officials have fanned out across the U.S. in recent weeks to make the case for TPA and the trade agreements it would facilitate. Although opponents have intensified their efforts as well, the general perception is that momentum for congressional passage of TPA is on the upswing.
However, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have reportedly reached an impasse on the extent to which Congress would be able to strip TPA protections from future trade agreements if its negotiating objectives are not met. Hatch emphasized that he “cannot support any procedural changes that will undermine the United States’ ability to negotiate and pass strong trade agreements” and accused Democrats of “moving the goal posts and asking for things they know we can’t give them.” Wyden, on the other hand, said he is “pushing hard for more transparency and oversight in trade negotiations, much stronger enforcement of the rules to hold trade cheats accountable, [and] strong protections for labor, human rights and the environment.” The dispute forced Hatch to cancel a committee hearing he had scheduled from Feb. 27, ostensibly to review the TPA bill had it been introduced.