By Brandon Arnold and Benita M. Dodd
The congressional debate over trade has been white-hot in recent weeks. With the support of both Georgia senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, the U.S. Senate just approved Trade Promotion Authority, which would help the United States enter into more trade agreements with foreign nations, benefiting people right here in Georgia.
As the debate shifts to the U.S. House of Representatives, a bizarre political coupling has emerged against Trade Promotion Authority (TPA): the union bosses and many of their traditional anti-trade friends on the left seem to have forged an alliance with some members of the Tea Party, which is traditionally aligned with the right.
In one corner of this odd alliance the unions continue to make their same, tired arguments that global trade is bad for the U.S. economy, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. In Georgia alone, trade supports approximately 1.2 million jobs; the state exported $58.4 billion in goods and services in 2013.
In the other corner, most Tea Party critics sensibly dismiss the flimsy union arguments and acknowledge trade’s economic benefits. Still, many express concerns that President Obama would be empowered with too much authority under this law and could somehow hijack the trade negotiating process to implement his own progressive agenda. These misgivings overlook the numerous safeguards to preserve an appropriate balance of power between the President and Congress.
Like no other version of TPA in its more than 40-year history under both Democrat and Republican presidents, the current Senate legislation established mechanisms that allow Congress to review the text of a trade agreement during negotiations and even to participate in the negotiating process. It also contains a brand new “off switch” that would allow the Senate Finance Committee or House Ways & Means Committee to take a pending agreement off the “fast track” so it would no longer enjoy expedited consideration in Congress.
Meanwhile, despite concerns that the president could modify immigration laws via trade pacts, Trade Promotion Authority clearly prohibits altering U.S. laws via a trade agreement. Critics have cited provisions related to the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement that took effect in 2012. Here, the extension of L-1 visas was separate from the trade pact. It merely changed their period of eligibility from three to five years, still less than the full seven years permitted under law at the time. This minor and completely legal change, outside a trade agreement, in no way signified or opened a door to wholesale revisions of immigration law. Meanwhile in 2014, just two years after this trade deal, Georgia experienced a 54 percent increase in exports to South Korea.
Far from handing over undue and undeserved power to President Obama, TPA’s safeguards would confine him and his trade deputies – by congressional mandate – to pursuing 150 well-defined trade objectives when negotiating a trade agreement. TPA gives Congress the authority to shut down – quickly – any effort to implement an administration agenda through a trade pact. If somehow Congress allowed a harmful provision to find its way into a completed agreement, TPA contains a clause that invalidates any provision in any trade agreement that stands in conflict with U.S. law.
Expanding trade is good for the country and especially good for Georgians. Free trade policies have allowed Georgia businesses to export billions of dollars every year in pulp and paper, motor vehicles, aerospace products, agricultural goods and much more. At the same time, imports have dramatically reduced the cost of consumer goods and inputs, which has been tremendously beneficial to Georgia’s families and businesses alike.
Since 1974, Trade Promotion Authority has been an essential tool for negotiating trade pacts and opening up additional foreign markets to American goods and services. No amount of misinformation or misunderstanding should change that.
Brandon Arnold is Executive Vice President of the National Taxpayers Union, the nation’s oldest taxpayer advocacy group. Benita Dodd is Vice President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.