TPA: Trading up for a better deal
Against that background, it is fitting that Congress is set to address the question of international trade agreements. After years of negotiation, congressional leaders have finally introduced trade promotion authority legislation to establish a workable game plan for imminent trade deals, including the Trans Pacific Partnerhip and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
A bicameral bill called the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 looks to set down congressional objectives that current and future administrations must follow when entering into and managing trade talks with foreign countries. This blueprint also requires increased transparency, granting Congress access to important information about the deals. Within the guidelines, the legislation would once again enable this and future presidents to “fast track” trade negotiations and submit proposed trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
While opposition to trade liberalization was always expected from certain elements of the political left, surprisingly, some on the right have voiced opposition suggesting that TPA is simply a “power grab” by President Barack Obama.
The claims of executive overreach couldn’t be further from reality. The fact is that the TPA proposal would re-establish the same sort of trade negotiation framework that was in place from 1974 to 1994, and then again from 2002 to 2007, enabling both the legislative and executive branches to work together to develop trade policies that are consistent with the Constitution. As Cato Institute scholar Daniel Ikenson explains:
Congress does not relinquish its authority. It reiterates its authority by setting boundaries for the president.
This is not to say that the proposed TPA is perfect. While the blueprint has its merits, such as provisions to limit restrictions on the flow of data, it unfortunately also pushes forward a less-than-ideal approach to intellectual property. In an effort to establish stringent intellectual property protection and enforcement, the proposal does not offer a balance to reflect other parts of U.S. copyright law upon which the Internet sector depends.
R Street’s Mike Godwin summed up the concern, explaining:
Our government’s TPA and its treaty negotiations need to reflect the needs of all stakeholders, including technology companies and ordinary users. The current language seems to suggest that only copyright holders’ interests matter.
This is the benefit of the TPA legislation, giving Congress an opportunity to openly debate its trade priorities. While I hope legislators will look to amend their approach on intellectual property, it is essential that Congress moves forward on a free-trade, free-market framework.
The United States is still trying to move on from the Great Recession. Efforts to remove trade restrictions should be moved forward to expand economic opportunity. Far too often, Congress has punted on policy. Here is an opportunity for our elected legislators to push for more than a few yards and a cloud of dust.