Trade bill full speed ahead

Trade Promotion Authority train leaves the station as Senate pushes legislation through committee and prepares for floor action.

It's been over six months in the making as Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., finally brokered a deal on a bill which would offer fast-track authority to the President when negotiating trade deals.

But members of the Democratic Party wanted to back the train up on the committee’s attempt to “fast track” the bill through Congress without time to adequately evaluate the bill itself.

No doubt the timeline ahead is quite ambitious. Hatch will hold a continuation of more debate on the bill on Tuesday, April 21 and hold a mark-up of the bill on Wednesday, and before the end of the month have it debated on the floor.

Why the rush? It’s hoped that if a TPA bill can advance this spring, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) can also come to a conclusion yet this spring. U.S. and Japan continue to meet to iron out differences.

Wyden encouraged his fellow Democrats that he looks forward to talking more about the bill more extensively over the next week and he felt it was clear there will be more talk about it for “weeks after that.”

Wyden also supports having Trade Adjustment Assistance move forward, and although it may not be included within the TPA bill, it will go on “parallel tracks.” He said, “TPA and TAA must make it to the President’s desk for a signature so one can’t be enacted without the other.”

Wyden said through many “spirited discussions” the leaders were able to agree to include provisions which allow Congress to “put the brakes on a bad deal” and set up a process that would allow through the committee the possibility to turn off fast track just as it is turned on.

The Senate Finance Committee has released a primer on what TPA and why it’s needed.

Crucial for ag

During the committee hearing on trade policy, Wyden asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack why the ongoing negotiations within the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would live up to the promises of which other agreements have fallen short.

Vilsack shared the only way to get agricultural support for any final TPP deal is to provide increased market access. When the average export coming into the United States faces an average tariff of 1.4%, the U.S. is at a significant disadvantage when it faces disproportionately high tariffs elsewhere.

For instance, poultry producers won’t face a 240% tariff in Japan. Beef producers face tariffs as high as 50% in some TPP countries.

But more importantly than just cutting tariffs, the TPP will include strong sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) provisions that will improve transparency and scientific decision-making to provide expanded access for U.S. products including meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, Vilsack testified.

Vilsack confidently said if TPP allows for tariffs to come down and SPS barriers either aren’t constructed or torn down more quickly, that agricultural exports will benefit significantly.

Here’s a rundown of agricultural groups’ strong support for the bill.

The U.S. is coming off a record year of $152 billion in agricultural exports. TPA will help keep that trend moving forward, many agricultural groups contend.

Hatch said the Senate has a unique opportunity to move forward on possibly one of the only pieces of policy that could find support in Congress and the executive branch. U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman reiterated TPA allows the “U.S. to speak with one voice” as it shows the administrative are working together to pursue negotiating objectives.

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