Aaron Fobes, Julia Lawless (202)224-4515
Hatch: TPA’s Unprecedented Transparency and Consultation Measures Give Congress and the Public Months to Review Trade Deals
In speech on Senate floor, Utah senator says, “Sixty days before the President can sign any trade agreement, he must publish the full text of the agreement on the USTR website so that the public can see it. This ensures an unprecedented level of transparency for the American people and gives our constituents the material and time they need to inform us of their views.”
WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) highlighted a number of transparency and consultation provisions built into the bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, a historic Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill that equips Congress and the public with months of time to review, debate and vote on a trade deal. Under TPA, before Congress can consider a trade deal for a vote, an administration must meet strict negotiating objectives for trade deals set by Congress and must extensively consult and provide transparency with Congress before, during and after negotiations.
“Only after the President has met these notification and consultation requirements, only after he has provided the required reports, and only after he has made the agreement available to the American people, may he finally sign the agreement. The process this bill requires before an agreement is even signed is obviously quite complex, full of checks and balances, and provides unprecedented transparency for the American public,” Hatch said.
The complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:
Mr. President, as we resume consideration of our TPA bill, I want to delve a little deeper into the process of considering and approving trade agreements.
Throughout the debate surrounding this bill, I’ve heard the term “fast track” used quite a few times. There was, in fact, a time when Trade Promotion Authority was commonly referred to as “fast-track.” Now only TPA opponents use that term.
They want the American people to believe that, under TPA, trade agreements come to Congress and are passed in the blink of an eye. Sometimes they use the term “rubber stamp,” as if, under TPA, Congress wielding ultimate authority over a trade agreement – the power to reject it entirely – is a mere administrative act.
Mr. President, there is a reason the term “fast track” isn’t used anymore. It’s because those who are being truly honest know that the process is anything but fast.
I think it would be helpful for me to walk through the entire process that Congress must undertake before rendering a final judgment on a trade agreement to show how thoroughly these agreements are vetted before they ever receive a vote.
Before I do though, I will note for my colleagues that this bill adds more transparency, notice, and consultation requirements than any TPA bill before it. This bill guarantees that Congress has all the information we need to render an informed up-or-down verdict on any trade agreement negotiated using the procedures in this bill.
Mr. President, Congress’s oversight of any trade agreement starts even before the negotiations on that agreement begin.
Under this bill, the President must not only notify Congress that he is considering entering into negotiations with our trading partners, but also what his objectives for those negotiations are. Specifically this has to happen three months before the President can start negotiating. That’s three months for Congress to consult on and shape the negotiations before they even begin.
Congress’s oversight continues as the negotiations advance.
This bill requires the United States Trade Representative to continuously consult with Senate Finance Committee and any other Senate committee with jurisdiction over subject matter potentially affected by a trade agreement. Moreover, USTR must, upon request, meet with any member of Congress to consult on the negotiations, including providing classified negotiating text.
The bill also establishes panels to oversee the trade negotiations.
These panels – the Senate Advisory Group on Negotiations and the Designated Congressional Advisers – consult with and advise the USTR on the formulation of negotiating positions and strategies. Under the bill, members of these panels will be accredited advisers to trade negotiating sessions involving the United States.
Congressional oversight intensifies as the negotiations near conclusion. At least six months before the President signs a trade agreement, he must submit a report to Congress detailing any potential changes to U.S. trade remedy laws.
Then, three months before the President signs a trade agreement, he must notify Congress that he intends to do so. At the same time, the President is required to submit details of the agreement to the U.S. International Trade Commission. The ITC is tasked with preparing an extensive report for Congress on the potential costs and benefits the agreement will have on the U.S. economy, specific economic sectors, and American workers.
I want to focus on the next step required by this bill, because it is a new requirement, never before included in TPA. Sixty days before the President can sign any trade agreement, he must publish the full text of the agreement on the USTR website so that the public can see it. This ensures an unprecedented level of transparency for the American people and gives our constituents the material and time they need to inform us of their views.
Only after the President has met these notification and consultation requirements, only after he has provided the required reports, and only after he has made the agreement available to the American people, may he finally sign the agreement.
Mr. President, the process this bill requires before an agreement is even signed is obviously quite complex, full of checks and balances, and provides unprecedented transparency for the American public. However, once the President does sign the agreement, his obligations continue.
Sixty days after signing the agreement, the President must provide Congress a description of changes to U.S. law he considers necessary. This step gives Congress time to begin considering what will be included in the legislation to implement the trade agreement.
This is also the time when the Finance Committee holds open hearings on the trade agreement in order to gather the views of the administration and the public.
Following these hearings, one of the most important steps in this entire process occurs: the so-called informal markup. The informal markup is not always well understood, so I will take a minute to describe it.
The informal markup occurs before the President formally submits the trade agreement to Congress. As with any markup of legislation, the Committee reviews and discusses the agreement and implementing legislation, has the opportunity to question witnesses about the agreement, and can amend the legislation.
In the event of amendments, the Senate can proceed to a mock conference with the House to unify the legislation. The practice of the informal markup provides Congress an opportunity to craft the legislation implementing a trade agreement as it sees fit, and to direct the President on the final package to be formally submitted to Congress.
While the informal markup is well established in practice, this bill, for the first time in the history of TPA, specifies that Congress will receive the materials it needs in time to conduct an informal markup. It requires that 30 days before the President formally submits a trade agreement to Congress, he must submit the final legal text of the agreement and a statement specifying any administrative action he will take to implement the agreement.
The bill therefore ensures that Congress will have all the materials it needs in time to conduct a thorough markup.
Only at this point may the President formally submit legislation implementing a trade agreement to Congress. And only at this point do the TPA procedures, first established in the Trade Act of 1974, kick in.
Once a bill implementing a trade agreement is formally submitted to Congress, a clock for consideration of that bill starts.
This clock gives Congress 90 days in session to consider and vote on the bill. As everyone here knows, 90 legislative days takes a lot longer than 90 calendar days.
Mr. President, when I hear my colleagues talk about “fast track,” I think this is where they start the clock.
They are disregarding the years of oversight and consultations that occur during trade negotiations.
They are ignoring the many months of Congressional consideration of trade legislation that occurs before the President ever formally submits that legislation to Congress.
They are discounting that, by this point in the process, Congress has held hearings on the agreement, received views from the public, and extensively reviewed the agreement and the implementing legislation through informal markups.
Calling this part of the process “fast track” is like skipping to the end of a book and saying the author didn’t develop the plot.
As I said, even here at the end of the process, the bill provides more than three months for hearings, Committee action, floor debate, and votes.
Sometimes I think that only a United States Senator could argue that more than three months to formally consider legislation – legislation that has already been thoroughly debated, vetted, and reviewed – is making decisions too fast.
Mr. President, when Congress votes on an implementing bill, it is only after years of oversight, and months of formal review.
So I have to ask: Does this process sound fast to you?
If TPA isn’t fast, then what does TPA do?
Put simply, TPA guarantees a vote.
TPA says to the world that when they sign an agreement with the United States, Congress promises to say “yes” or “no” to THAT agreement. And most importantly, TPA guarantees that Congress will have the information and the time we need to make that decision.
Without TPA we are essentially telling the President to try and negotiate the price of buying a house, and then after buying that home, we are asking to renegotiate with the sellers. This would be absurd and rob Americans of the financial opportunities, employment, and a fair world marketplace they can only get from free trade agreements.
Mr. President, once again, I urge all of my colleagues support our bill.
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