John Hansen is president of the Nebraska Farmers Union and served as a U.S. Trade Representative trade adviser for three administrations for 14 years starting in 1994.
TPA, also known as Fast Track Authority, provides the administration with trade-negotiating direction and authority while also forcing Congress to vote up or down on trade proposals without amendment and within a limited amount of time for consideration. My organization believes in the value and necessity of good process, especially for congressional oversight and regulation of trade, as our Constitution provides. TPA is a shortcut of Congress’ normal process that reduces their ability to do the job we elected them to do.
TPA makes the known problems associated with trade negotiations worse. It limits congressional oversight and review while empowering the administration in power to potentially cause more mischief behind closed doors with the implanting of “sweetheart” provisions for special interests. TPA then ties the hands of Congress to take the pork provisions out because of the “take it or leave it without amendment” structure.
As a former U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) adviser for three administrations for 14 years, I feel the implanting of “sweetheart” provisions is not only possible but probable. First, the USTR advisory system is dominated by U.S.-based companies that have massive worldwide economic interests and footprints. These international players are oftentimes both the largest exporters and importers of products and services into our country. These heavy hitters have the ear of our trade negotiators.
Second, USTR staff tends to be young, bright and ambitious. They also tend to move from employment at USTR to the private sector — to companies they worked with closely in trade negotiations — after the trade deal is completed.
These days, trade agreements do more than target tariffs for reductions. They set economic, environmental, labor and agricultural policy, and they establish legal standing and dispute resolution processes that undermine state and national authorities to set domestic standards.
Congress should not support TPA because our national trade policy is a colossal failure and needs more, not less, congressional oversight. Last year’s trade deficit of $504 billion represented a 3 percent drag on the growth rate of our national economy. Trade policy can produce either good or bad results. Like most Americans, I am not against trade, but I am against 21 years of losing trade policy.
Step up, Congress. Do your job.
Read the entire op-ed, which appeared in the April 29, 2015, Omaha World Herald here.