Boasting what remains, by far, the world’s largest economy, the United States — and the state of Washington, in particular — has more to gain than to fear from open international trade. Because of that, Congress should act quickly to approve Trade Promotion Authority for President Barack Obama as his administration negotiates the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Two issues are involved here, beginning with the Trans-Pacific Partnership that has been a topic of discussion for the better part of a decade. The agreement would involve the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, collectively accounting for about 40 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. China, notably, is not involved, and the agreement would provide a counterweight to an economy that is the second biggest in the world.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership has, understandably, attracted its share of critics, in part because of the secretive nature of the negotiations. Some factions worry that further opening international trade would harm organized labor in the U.S. and that the proposal does not include adequate environmental protections. The criticisms deserve to be fully vetted, which is why many in Congress are leery of providing the president with Trade Promotion Authority, commonly known as fast-track authority.
Which brings us to the second issue involved, as the notion of fast-track authority has created an unusual coalition that includes Republicans, Obama and some Democratic legislators. The bill that would provide the authority was written by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in cooperation with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.
This bipartisan workmanship demonstrates the need for fast-track authority, as does any logical examination of the issue. Such authority would allow the administration to negotiate trade agreements and then bring them before Congress for a simple up-or-down vote. The alternative would be for Congress to manipulate and fine-tune the international agreement, which would then require the changes to be brought to the other 11 nations for approval — effectively killing any hopes for an agreement through bureaucratic meddling.
Lest anybody think that providing Obama with fast-track authority would be an example of the administration abusing its power, the most recent Trade Promotion Authority was granted to President George W. Bush in 2002. Congress long has recognized that having too many cooks dipping into agreements can spoil the soup, and such authority will be necessary to finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The partnership, regardless of its final form, will have a vast impact on Washington. As the nation’s most trade-dependent state, a state in which roughly 40 percent of workers have a job related to international trade, the proposal has been greeted with both eager anticipation and with dread. The deal includes standards protecting the environment and labor, and covers issues including energy use, transparency and intellectual property. Most important, it codifies regulations for countries with looser standards than those in the United States, which Daniel Russel, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the U.S. State Department, described as “the price of admission” to the American market.
Whether or not those provide adequate protection for workers in the United States will be up to Congress. But first lawmakers should grant Obama the authority to present them with an intact agreement.