Warning that “the economic growth enabled by freer trade is now in peril,” two recently retired lawmakers have offered a blueprint for halting “the trend toward protectionism and managed trade” and “rebuilding a bipartisan pro-trade consensus” in Congress.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who served on the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who served on the House Ways and Means Committee, were both supporters of the type of trade liberalization that has fallen out of favor in both parties in recent years. Republicans have been the more ardent champions of this approach in recent decades, and the fact that they will control the House of Representatives for the next two years has given supporters some hope that related measures may see some progress.
However, the number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who advocate for freer trade continues to dwindle. Those supporters who remain face a formidable opponent in a White House that has adamantly rejected traditional trade agreements and pursued a different model that relies more on executive action.
Nevertheless, Toomey and Kind said they remain optimistic that a bipartisan pro-trade consensus can be rebuilt and offered the following policy recommendations for any member of Congress “eager to take up this mantle.”
- direct the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to pursue negotiations with countries where a comprehensive free trade agreement is quickly achievable (e.g., the United Kingdom and Kenya) and consider rejoining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership
- reject the approach of constructing executive trade agreements that lack market access provisions and do not require approval by Congress, which “will affect the ultimately enforceability of the agreements and circumvents Congress’s constitutionally-mandated responsibilities over trade policy”
- develop legislation making clear that the executive branch has no power to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from an FTA and requiring congressional approval for any such move
- renew trade promotion authority, which provides for accelerated congressional action on trade agreements that meet specified criteria, with improvements that update negotiating objectives, tighten consultation requirements, require the inclusion of amendments from congressional “mock markups” of implementing legislation (provided they are consistent with the agreement), and empower the Senate to cancel fast-track treatment if TPA requirements are violated
- reform the Section 232 law empowering the White House to unilaterally raise tariffs for national security purposes to require congressional approval, narrow the scope of products eligible for such tariffs, and transfer Section 232 investigations to the Defense Department
- reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the World Trade Organization and encourage reform of the WTO’s dispute settlement system
For more information on trade policy and legislation, please contact Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956 or via email.
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