May 12,2015

Sen. Orrin Hatch: Trade authority gives Americans a voice

TPA makes negotiations transparent and puts Congress back in control of trade policy.

By Sen. Orrin Hatch

May 12, 2015

Last week, our nation celebrated the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. The end of World War II also signaled the beginning of an era of unparalleled American economic leadership.

Today, the Senate has a historic opportunity to continue that success by passing a trade bill that would ensure Congress and the American people take the lead on U.S. trade policy for years to come.

That legislation is Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), critical legislation that accomplishes three things essential for American leadership on trade.

First, and most importantly, the bill puts Congress back in charge of setting U.S. trade policy.

Right now, the administration can negotiate a trade agreement with little direction from Congress, leaving the American people without a strong voice on trade priorities.

That would change with TPA.

It is the president's job to negotiate with foreign countries, but Article I of the Constitution puts Congress in charge of regulating commerce with foreign nations.

TPA meets both of these constitutional responsibilities.

The bill allows Congress to set strict negotiating objectives for trade deals, requires the administration to consult with Congress during negotiations, and ensures that Congress has the final word on any trade agreement.

Secondly, the bill ensures accountability and transparency for the American people, while protecting American sovereignty.

In fact, any American or member of Congress that is concerned about how a potential trade deal could affect them should support passage of this bill because it requires that Congress have access to important information surrounding pending trade deals — before, during and after negotiations.

By increasing transparency and strengthening consultation requirements, Congress will have the power to see that the trade priorities of their constituents are being met by the administration. Importantly, TPA makes clear that a trade agreement cannot ever change U.S. law — only Congress has the power to do that.

And, for the first time, before the president can enter into an agreement, TPA requires the administration to make the full text of a trade agreement available to the public online — several months before it is even submitted to Congress for debate.

Third, if the President meets the consultation requirements and negotiating objectives set out in TPA, he can submit a trade agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

Right now, America is not at its strongest when negotiating trade agreements with other countries. No potential trade partner will give our negotiators their best offer unless they know what issues matter the most to us and whether America can deliver on the deal. With TPA, the United States makes our demands clear, and promises our trading partners that the deal they sign is the deal Congress will vote on.

The trade debate that begins in the Senate this week cannot be delayed any longer. The world economy waits for no one and the United States cannot afford to sit on the sidelines as other countries tear down barriers to their exports and set the standards to benefit their workers. Since TPA expired in 2007, the rest of the world has notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of more than 140 bilateral or regional trade agreements. The United States has signed zero.

But, that can change. With the United States currently engaged in two major trade negotiations with some of our strongest trading partners, including Japan, Mexico, Canada and the European Union, the time to renew this critical trade tool is now.

TPA would give the American people and their representatives in Washington the strong voice they deserve in these negotiations that, if successful, will ensure America sets the rules of international trade for decades to come.

And when America sets the rules, our hardworking workers, farmers, ranchers and job creators sell more American products across the globe.

This is a historic opportunity to secure American economic leadership on the world stage.

So, Congress must now decide: Will we take the lead on U.S. trade policy by passing TPA, or will we allow the rest of the world to pass America by?

The challenge before us is clear.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.