A week after passing legislation to extend trade preference programs and strengthen trade enforcement, the Senate voted May 22 to approve a bill restoring trade promotion authority for up to six years. TPA allows the White House to submit legislation implementing new trade agreements that Congress must either approve or reject, but cannot amend, within a specified timeframe. TPA and the other trade and customs bills will now move to the House, where their prospects remain uncertain.
According to press reports, only a handful of the numerous amendments to the bill that were proposed by supporters and opponents alike were ultimately considered, and only two were approved. One would give the executive branch the flexibility to use a variety of tools, including enforceable rules but also reporting, monitoring and cooperative mechanisms, to address unfair currency practices by future trade agreement partners. After opting for this approach senators narrowly rejected a tougher amendment that would have required U.S. negotiators to seek to include in future trade agreements enforceable provisions against currency manipulation by foreign trading partners to gain a trade advantage. The other approved amendment would require the executive branch to take a country’s record on religious freedom into account when considering it as a potential trade agreement partner.
The Senate-passed bill continues to include a provision that would prohibit expedited consideration under TPA of trade agreements with countries on the State Department’s list of those having the worst records on combating human trafficking. There is concern that this provision could essentially scuttle the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement because Malaysia, a TPP participant, is currently on this so-called Tier 3 list. However, lawmakers are reportedly working to prevent such an outcome by modifying the provision to allow State to submit a waiver for Tier 3 countries that it determines have taken concrete actions to implement the principal recommendations in its most recent human trafficking report.
In approving the TPA bill the Senate rejected efforts to require Congress to give prior approval to adding any countries other than the existing 12 participants to the TPP, remove a controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, and strip out a six-year reauthorization of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.