Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act would boost demand

Jan 17, 2014

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF)— charged with increasing demand for U.S. beef, lamb and pork exports in international markets—and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) have thrown their support behind the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act (BCTPA) introduced in Congress earlier this month.

USMEF says the act will ensure that Congress continues to have a strong voice on trade while giving the Obama administration the support it needs to achieve the best possible outcome for the U.S. red meat industry, but opponents say it bypasses congressional authority on trade agreements.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific Rim countries, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with 28 European Union members and Trade in International Services negotiations would enhance untold potential for U.S. agricultural exports, USMEF argues.

“The United States is currently engaged in the most critical free trade agreement negotiations in our nation’s history,” USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng said.

“For these negotiations to fulfill their potential, our trade officials need the strongest possible hand when they are at the negotiating table. Our trading partners need to know that once these agreements are negotiated, they are not going to be changed as they go through the approval process in Congress.”

The bill also restores trade promotion authority to the U.S. president that expired in 2007, giving him “fasttrack” authority to put trade deals before Congress for up or down votes without amendments. It also re-sets it for another seven years.

IDFA President and CEO Connie Tipton said the U.S. dairy industry is seeking a more liberalized international dairy market and believes balanced free trade agreements will increase market access for American dairy exports.

“We urge members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to move quickly to advance this legislation so the positive progress on TPP and TTIP will continue, opening a wealth of opportunity for U.S. business and job growth,” Tipton said.

The IDFA is composed of three constituent organizations: the Milk Industry Foundation; the National Cheese Institute; and the International Ice Cream Association with a membership of 550 companies within a $125 billion-a-year industry.

President Obama’s Press Secretary Jay Carney welcomed BCTPA’s introduction in Congress as an important step towards Congress updating its important role in trade negotiations.

“Trade Promotion Authority is a key part of a comprehensive strategy to increase exports and support more American jobs at higher wages, including in a stronger manufacturing sector,” Carney stated.

“We look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress throughout the legislative process to pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation with as broad bipartisan support as possible.”

The press secretary noted the United States has the most open markets in the world, but its products and services still face barriers abroad.

“That’s why we need to use every tool we have to knock down trade barriers that prevent American goods and services from being exported. If we don’t seize these opportunities, our competitors surely will,” Carney said.

“And if we don’t take the leadership to set high standards around the world, we will face a race to the bottom which is not in the interest of our workers and firms.”

Carney said the Obama administration stands ready to work with Congress to renew the Generalized System of Preferences Program and protect and strengthen Trade Adjustment Assistance for U.S. workers as the process proceeds.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Forest & Paper Association, the American Insurance Association and the Biotechnology Industry Association are among organizations that welcome the act. The Farm Bureau said ranchers and farmers earn 25 percent of their ag income from exports.

The bill was introduced in Congress by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), ranking Republican on the finance committee, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI).

The three sponsors stated in a news release that the bill provides for tougher, enforceable rules against barriers to U.S. agriculture.

“This is our opportunity to tell the administration—and our trading partners—what Congress’ negotiating priorities are,” said Baucus, who is Obama’s nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to China. “TPA legislation is critical to a successful trade agenda. It is critical to boosting U.S. exports and creating jobs.”

Camp said Congress must pass TPA legislation to secure economic and job growth benefits of large trade deals. “This legislation will ensure that the administration is following the rules and negotiating objectives that Congress has set out,” Camps said.

Several Democrats in Obama’s own party, however, oppose the trade legislation, expressing concerns about labor and environmental protections. House Democrats Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Louise Slaughter of New York and George Miller of California released a statement blasting the legislation.

They said TPA would enable the president “to ram through far-reaching, secretly negotiated trade deals like the TPP that extend well beyond traditional trade matters. Our constituents did not send us to Washington to ship their jobs overseas, and Congress will not be a rubber stamp for an other flawed trade deal that will hang the middle class out to dry,” they stated.

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) said in a news release that he would work on alternative legislation that “fully meets today’s needs in a rapidly globalizing economy.” He said the last time TPA was approved in 2002, the authority was used mostly for single-nation trade agreements, but the treaties now being negotiated would be major multi-party agreements.

Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the 20-year record of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) shows that deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership would only contribute to income inequality as more middle class jobs are lost.

“Many members of Congress are asking why we would agree to give up our authority to make sure the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not NAFTA on steroids, particularly when we’ve seen what NAFTA has done to American workers,” Wallach said, noting not a single House Democrat has cosponsored the legislation.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a Trojan horse for a host of awful measures that have nothing to do with trade and would never get through Congress in the light of day.” — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent