A bill many deem necessary to finalizing the two major trade agreements passed significant hurdles in Washington this week. The Trade Priorities and Accountability Act that would renew Trade Promotion Authority received the stamp of approval by the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. While differences in the bills due to amendments during the committee mark-ups will have to be reconciled and the legislation will have to be considered by the full chambers, these votes signify important steps in the legislative process.
The Senate Finance Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), took the bill up first, passing it late Wednesday night with a bipartisan 20-6 vote in favor of the legislation.
“By acting to further break down barriers for American exports, we successfully advanced a strong trade agenda that will help move America forward,” said Chairman Hatch. “These bills will open new markets for American-made products, which is vital for job creation and economic growth. Our work is not yet done. We need to continue with our bipartisan efforts and work to push these measures through the Congress and enacted into law."
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commercer, nearly 40 million American jobs are supported by trade. That's one in five jobs across the country.
The House Ways and Means Committee wasted no time in bringing the bill before the committee, where it passed with a 25-13 vote, including two Democrats joining all committee Republicans supporting the bill. Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said passing the bill is an important step in this process.
“This bill will help us achieve the best trade agreements for American workers and job creators,” said Chairman Ryan. “It will allow the United States—instead of China—to write the rules of the economy. And it will hold the president accountable to Congress. TPA puts Congress in the driver's seat of trade negotiations and provides the transparency that Americans deserve.
The legislation drew early praise for many of the national organizations representing farmers and ranchers. One group, the National Farmers Union, opposed the bill on concerns that entering into trade agreements will actually add to the nation’s trade deficit. That’s a concern, however, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says is unwarranted. According to the Chamber’s written testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, the United States has a trade surplus with its 20 trade agreement partners as a group, including sizeable trade surpluses in manufactured goods, services and agricultural products.
“From the U.S. business community’s perspective, the negotiating objectives laid out in the TPA bill are balanced and ambitious. They reflect the evolution of U.S. trade agreements in recent years and include the best new ideas in trade policy,” said Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue.
The first of the two trade agreements being negotiated is the Trans-Pacific Partnership with nations in the Asia Pacific region. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), in 2013, U.S. agricultural exports totaled more than $58 billion to TPP countries, a figure USTR says would increase as a result of tariff elimination under TPP.
The second agreement is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with the European Union. In 2013, the United States exported $10 billion in agricultural products to the EU. USTR says that can and should be much higher. “Our goal in T-TIP is to help U.S. agricultural sales reach their full potential by eliminating tariffs and quotas that stand in the way of exports,” says USTR on its website.
Beyond eliminating tariffs, the United States is also focusing on eliminating or reducing unscientific sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers to trade.