The Thursday release of legislation to authorize the Trade Promotion Authority – with some extra transparency provisions – was welcomed by ag groups late in the afternoon, most of which said it will pave the way for key trade deals, like the pending Trans Pacific Partnership.
The legislation, The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015) outlines congressional negotiating objectives for entering into and conducting trade talks with foreign countries. It pledges to require administrations to keep legislators and the public in the loop when it comes to specifics on trade deals.
If an administration should fail to follow the rules stipulated in the TPA legislation, TPA may be revoked.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., introduced the bipartisan, bicameral legislation.
Key ag groups are largely in support of the bill, and have been pushing for TPA for some time. Several groups also are supportive of the trade deals it may facilitate, including not only the TPP but also the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an agreement with the European Union.
During a hearing Thursday morning to discuss trade priorities, Hatch mentioned that he expected a mark-up on the bill Thursday. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman, along with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, testified at the hearing.
Hatch said without the TPA, "no potential trading partner will give us their best offer unless they know what trading issues matter to us the most."
TPA "is the most powerful tool in Congress' trade arsenal," he said.
Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wasn't as supportive, citing the "excessive secrecy" that has surrounded the TPA debate and development of the final proposal that surfaced Thursday.
Vilsack and Froman, however, each advocated for the TPA. "Over 70 organizations representing America's farmers and ranchers support trade promotion authority because trade is vital for U.S. agriculture," Vilsack said in a statement following the proposal's release. "We look for quick action by Congress to provide the President with the authority to pursue agreements that open markets for America's farmers, ranchers and agribusiness."
But there will be pushback – some legislators fear that it will be difficult to get Japan and other countries to live up to their pledges in a trade deal that could be facilitated by TPA.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., told reporters after a trip to Asia that he had doubts that the TPP could live up to "what it is billed to be," Politico reported. He along with others, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and Donald Norcross, D-N.J., have suggested they will not support the bill.
Regardless, ag groups stand at the ready to support TPA and ultimately the TPP. The National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, U.S. Wheat Associates, National Milk Producers Federation and others all issued statements of TPA support Thursday.
Only one key ag group, National Farmers Union, opposes TPA "fast-track" legislation. NFU called the TPA a "one way ticket to bigger trade deficits."
"TPA is just the continuation of the same old thing, trade agreements that make huge promises of prosperity and jobs to the American public and deliver nothing but bigger deficits, exported jobs and lost domestic agricultural sales,” Johnson said.
USDA's Vilsack, however, pointed to the $150 billion generated last year in ag exports.
"Standing still is not an option," Vilsack said. "Not only do we face barriers in important foreign markets, but we are currently being hurt as these countries negotiate agreements that lower barriers for our competitors."