WASHINGTON, July 23, 2014 – A vote on whether to renew presidential “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) likely will be delayed until after the lame duck session of Congress, according to two House members. TPA gives a president authority to negotiate a treaty that Congress must approve or disapprove, but cannot change or filibuster.
Speaking at an Atlantic Council forum on trade in the Pacific region, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., and Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., said TPA will help strengthen the U.S. position in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Meeks noted Congress will soon begin its August recess and a vote will likely have to wait until after the elections in November. The lawmakers are co-chairs of the Friends of TPP Caucus.
“I believe (TPA) is the catalyst to move forward on a very strong, very directed foreign policy, and TPP is an opportunity for Japan and the U.S. step up and jointly lead,” Boustany said. The talks include 10 other Pacific Rim nations.
Boustany said he has heard concerns from agriculture groups that the U.S. may agree to a TPP that allows Japan to maintain the high tariffs that protect many of its farm products. Some groups have said that unless things change, the other countries should go ahead and negotiate a deal without Japan.
“If we lose core agriculture groups in this, that could be very detrimental going forward,” Boustany said. “We need to counter that quickly. I think (the U.S. Trade Representative) and the executive branch need to get out there and explain we’re not going to settle for anything less than a really strong deal.”
Meeks was adamant that an agreement would have to include “equal and open market access in Japan” and that Congress would not approve anything short of that level of Japanese commitment.
Boustany said he hopes negotiators from the other TPP nations don’t confuse U.S. interest in elections and other governmental issues as disinterest in a sound treaty. And he encouraged those nations to bring their best efforts to the negotiations
“Get your best deal on the table and get it ready, because we will have TPA, and we’ll be ready to move,” Boustany said. “If the agreement is not high quality, it will not get through Congress.”
Acting Deputy USTR Wendy Cutler said many factors play into TPP negotiations including an opportunity to revisit some trade regulations with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico. She was confident there was enough common ground between negotiating parties to reach a TPP agreement and that “substance” would drive the timeline. Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are also involved in the talks.
At the forum, the Atlantic Council released a report called “Bridging the Pacific: The Americas' New Economic Frontier?” in which author Peter Rashish proposed nine steps to promote the Asia-Pacific trade agenda and ensure the U.S., and its fastest-growing trade partner, Latin America, benefit from a TPP agreement. Among his recommendations:
· President Obama should publicly champion his international trade agenda and engage with Capitol Hill to explain the merits of an Asia-Pacific agreement.
· TPP countries should advocate forcefully to ensure the agreement improves and streamlines the confusing current collection of overlapping bilateral deals.
· Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, and others in Latin America who wish to join TPP should be welcomed into the talks to create more geographical balance.
· The TPP negotiating process should be made more transparent without sacrificing confidentiality, and its goals should be communicated more clearly and effectively to the public.
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