U.S. Senate approves trade promotion authority

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U.S. Capitol

SALEM, Ohio — Farmers and farm organizations who are counting on new trade deals to help boost demand for U.S. commodities are a lot closer to having that happen.

On May 22, the U.S. Senate approved legislation in a 62-37 vote that would grant the president “trade promotion authority” — and sources say the House could vote on the same legislation by early June.

Trade promotion authority would allow the president to negotiate with other nations in a more deliberate, more business-like way. Congress would still have to vote on any trade deals the president might approve — but the additional negotiating power would make U.S. trade proposals more competitive.

Nothing new

According to the National Pork Producers Council, which supports the deal, Congress has granted promotion authority to every president since 1974. The most recent, similar law, expired in 2007.

Ron Prestage, NPPC president, said TPA is “imperative for finalizing free trade agreements that boost U.S. exports and create U.S. jobs.”

The U.S. is currently engaged in some major trade negotiations, including The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could mean new market opportunity in places like Japan.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the U.S. needs to advance its trade policy if it wants to compete globally.

“Our farmers and ranchers face exorbitant tariffs and other barriers in important foreign markets, and if we do not act to maintain and gain market share in these places, our competitors will,” Vilsack said in a released statement. “U.S. agriculture’s interests are best served by ensuring America is at the table with strong negotiating authority,”

One of the key features of TPA, often called “fast-track,” is that it strips the ability of Congress to amend trade deals.

Ohio Farm Bureau members meeting with Japanese ambassadors to discuss trade.
Ohio Farm Bureau members meeting with Japanese ambassadors to discuss trade.

However, this is also the goal of TPA, because by limiting Congress to an up or down vote of a particular trade deal, it helps the U.S. make final offers with other nations. If Congress feels those offers are unacceptable, members can still vote them down.

Trade numbers

According to NPPC, the U.S. exported more than $6.6 billion of pork last year, mostly because of Free Trade Agreements. According to USDA, last year’s total ag exports were more than $150 billion, which supported approximately 1 million U.S. jobs.

“Trade helps create good-paying American jobs, so it’s good news that the Senate has put us one step closer to eliminating trade barriers,” said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, in a released statement. “These reforms have the support of farmers, manufacturers, small business owners, and Americans from all walks of life, and it’s not hard to figure out why.”

Boehner vowed to take up the measure, but just as there was in the Senate, there will still be some convincing to do in the House.

Negative impact

Opponents argue that trade deals cost the U.S. jobs, especially in manufacturing, and that they hurt labor unions.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, voted against the trade deal, citing concerns that previous trade agreements have “offered big promises, but have produced bad results.”

He’s concerned about products that would be coming into the U.S., as a result of trade, and how that could impact U.S. manufacturing jobs, and currency.

But according to President Obama, who supports the Senate’s action, the legislation “includes strong standards” that will advance workers’ rights and protect the environment, while including new measures to address the issue of unfair currency.

The president, in a statement, also said the deal includes an “important extension” of Trade Adjustment Assistance, a federal program which helps American workers who may be displaced as the result of foreign trade agreements.

The Senate’s action was supported by the National Corn Growers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, the Produce Marketing Association, and about 70 other farm organizations.

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