WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2014 – Lawmakers and congressional witnesses recently urged passage of legislation that would give the president “fast-track” trade promotion authority (TPA).

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., held a hearing to discuss the bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act (S. 1900, H.R. 3830), which would put trade deals before Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments. Baucus and supporters also say the bill would give lawmakers greater oversight over trade negotiations.

Baucus introduced the bill in the Senate, with ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., offered companion legislation in the House.

Baucus told lawmakers that other countries are quickly moving to secure trade deals, and the United States needs to advance TPA. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers are outside the United States,” Baucus said. “They hold eighty percent of the world’s purchasing power. We need trade deals to reach those consumers.”

Baucus said exports support about 10 million U.S. jobs, including 25 percent of jobs in manufacturing. “If we don’t stay in the game, we’ll be left on the sidelines. Our exports will face high tariffs, whereas our competitors will not,” Baucus said.

The bill comes as the Obama administration seeks to wrap up Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks with 11 Pacific Rim nations, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the 28-member European Union. The treaties would create the world's biggest free-trade zones.

Baucus and supporters say the legislation would provide for tougher, enforceable rules against barriers to U.S. agriculture. “In short, this isn’t the same old TPA,” he said. Baucus said the bill would give lawmakers a stronger voice in the negotiation process, including the right to access information, including classified information, as well as the ability to attend all negotiating sessions and serve as an advisor.

Hatch said the bill would expand and enhance Congress’ role in international trade negotiations through strengthened consultation mechanisms, including provisions that require the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to meet and consult with lawmakers. “Congress has the opportunity to set forth clear priorities for our negotiations and to articulate standards that our trade agreements must meet in order to be approved,” Hatch said. “These negotiating objectives were developed after close consultation with many stakeholders.”

David M. Cote, chairman and chief executive officer of Honeywell, told lawmakers at the hearing that the vast majority of the world’s gross domestic product is outside the United States and many developing countries are growing faster.

Cote said, according to USDA economic statistics, by 2030, the percentage of world GDP generated from the United States will drop from 26 percent to 24 percent, and other developed countries will decline from 39 percent to 29 percent. Meanwhile, he said, developing countries will grow from 35 percent to 47 percent of world GDP. “In other words, what we think of as “developing countries,” in 20 years will account for about half of the world’s GDP,” Cote said. “That’s a big deal and we need to be in there forging relationships now.”

James S. Allen, president and chief executive officer of the New York Apple Association, said the United States is the world’s leading exporter of agricultural products at a value of  $140 billion, and fresh apple exports to more than 70 countries represent over $1 billion in farm gate revenues for U.S. growers.

Allen said apple-producing states rely on export markets to help balance domestic supply levels, and to expand markets. “Challenges remain for U.S. agriculture because ag exports often face barriers imposed by countries that keep U.S. products from reaching their target markets, such as unscientific sanitary and phytosanitary measures on pesticides and food additives,” Allen said. “Unfortunately, this is a familiar scenario in the apple export arena.”


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