Biden’s power to pass trade agreements is about to weaken
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Hello from Washington, Joe Biden flew from there to Wisconsin to sell his $1 trillion infrastructure plan to voters, even if the prospect of a bipartisan deal was questioned over the weekend.
Our main content today is about the expiring power of the President of the United States to pass trade agreements without much congressional supervision. Let’s take a look at what it is, what it means and why Biden no longer wants it.
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Why Biden thinks TPA is not worth saving
To most people, a piece of American legislation called the Trade Promotion Agency sounds boring. However, when it was last updated in 2015, it sparked an unusual struggle. Former President Barack Obama was supported by Republicans and businesses, but mostly abandoned by his own Democrats.
Why all the fuss? The TPA grants the president the power to negotiate trade agreements outside of the country, set goals for US trade policy, and manage how these agreements are approved by Congress after they are signed by the negotiators. Crucially, it provides “fast-track” protection, which means that trade agreements cannot be modified, and directly vote for or against. Most importantly, it expires tomorrow, and Biden shows no signs of pushing for a contract renewal.
So why not bother to update? Several reasons.
First of all, as it did when the TPA was last updated in 2015, it may lead to what we Brits like to call the “scene” on the mountain, as well as the general political genre. As early as 2015, unions and environmentalists lined up to oppose the handing over of TPA to Obama. Richard Trumka, chairman of the AFL-CIO, stated that this will only lead to “more unemployment and lower wages.” Even now, in this new era of “worker-centered trade policy” (quoting one of Biden’s favorite and most commonly used words of the U.S. Trade Representative), there are still people who welcome the expiration of the TPA. For example, the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy criticized the existing TPA provisions that prevent US trade negotiators from addressing the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, and believes that more consultations with Congress should be conducted early in the negotiation process. Biden needs to regain authorization, and then legislators need to agree on trade policy objectives to overturn the bill. We are actually in an era of bipartisan cooperation in trade policy, but there is no doubt that Democrats and Republicans will find the topic of contention. Reaching an agreement requires effort.
Second, and related to this, Congress is already busy with Biden’s domestic agenda. When it comes to international affairs, the global tax agreement may get oxygen before the TPA. It’s just that there is no willingness to spend political capital on trade legislation. It is not easy to update it. This will involve legislators setting aside some time to debate (politely) the guiding ideology and economic principles of U.S. trade policy.
Third, the Biden administration stated that it is not particularly interested in reaching a new free trade agreement. It is doing some new trade activities, Especially Taiwan, But in most cases, it seems to be more focused on the implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Fourth, many people are happy to point out that the TPA does not necessarily mean that Congress can quickly pass it, even if it has already taken effect. Theoretically, the TPA assures US negotiating partners that US negotiators can cash checks and quickly reach a final agreement through Congress. But even if the TPA is in effect, this does not seem to be the case. For example, the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement was fiercely contested on the mountain. The negotiations between Republican, Democratic, current U.S. Trade Representative Catherine Tay and then U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer are as important as negotiations between the United States and other countries.
Although the TPA is not as strong as it might seem at first glance, the British people are very upset about not meeting the deadline-the new trade agreement needs to be basically completed before April 1 to cover it. In London, there is a view that opening the transaction text to any and all amendments, as they say, would be a nightmare. Voting directly for or against often only attracts the main objection, rather than inviting open texts that may cause everyone to confuse. Most trade figures in Washington agree that the establishment of a TPA is the key to the successful conclusion of a trade agreement, so letting it expire will indeed destroy the progress of any Anglo-American deal.
So what should I do now? The exciting thing is that we think nothing will happen. Our prediction is that Biden will not initiate a large and controversial trade debate in Congress before the 2022 midterm elections-why would he do this? After that, he might not even do it. But we will see.
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