WASHINGTON, March 5, 2014-- U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman seems convinced that Congress will eventually approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), commonly known as “fast track,” later this year - paving the way for lawmakers to provide an up or down vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade agreements. He’s suggested the votes will be there for TPA, as long as the trade agreement provides substantial benefits for the United States.

Passing TPA before a new trade agreement is completed seems like a logical order of business, dating back to 1974, when TPA was “ingeniously designed” as a way of avoiding congressional gridlock, says Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council. However, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., opposed to a vote on TPA, some folks are rethinking whether or not TPA needs to go first or is needed at all.

“With good management you can pass anything,” Reinsch told participants at the Sweeteners Colloquium in California last week. “We’ve done it once without this (TPA) process and that was with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Jordan. But there is no question it’s easier with TPA.”

Reinsch expects negotiations on TPP to wrap up in late April when President Obama goes to Asia. Even then, it will probably take six months for all of the details to be worked out – potentially setting up a vote in a lame duck session of Congress. At that point, the TPP “will either be the engine that drives the train or could end up being the brake,” Reinsch adds.

If there is no TPP, there is no rush to deal with TPA, he said. At the same time, once TPP is concluded, it will be public and at that point opponents will be able to oppose the agreement, based on what’s in it.

Added to the complexity: Some governments in the TPP talks don’t want to finish negotiating until Congress passes TPA.

“When foreigners say that, it is largely an excuse not to close TPP,” adds Reinsch. “Every country has its own approval process.

Reinsch says the “dirty little secret” of TPA - which was exposed in the FTA with Colombia – is that the TPA is an exercise in the rulemaking of each body of Congress.

When the Colombia agreement was sent up by President George H.W. Bush, the House leadership changed the rules to stop the clock that was supposed to be ticking as soon as it was sent to the House, Reinsch said.

“For every step you take there is an opposite step the other side can take. I still don’t think that makes TPA irrelevant,” he notes.

For others, like Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, TPA definitely needs to move first.

“TPP negotiations can and will continue,” Grassley told Agri-Pulse, “but there won’t be any signature by any country to an agreement until Congress passes TPA because none of these other countries are going to sign onto an agreement that the U.S. might sign, but that might be changed later.”

Grassley says it is questionable that we will see TPA until Obama gets engaged and “until he tells Reid…..and Pelosi that it’s a must for him, it’s good for the country and good for the world…The question is whether the president will expend the political capital to get that done, and I kind of doubt it.”


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