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Ryan on IJReview: TPA is Accountability

April 30, 2015

IJReview op-ed

The United States is currently negotiating a historic trade agreement with eleven other countries on the Pacific Rim. It could mean more jobs, higher wages, and restored American leadership in the world. But many critics say the president has been unaccountable and the negotiations have been too secretive. That’s why the House is moving a bill I’ve written to open up the negotiations to greater scrutiny and make sure this trade deal is a fair deal for America’s workers.

Our bill would establish something called “trade promotion authority.” TPA is a process for negotiating trade agreements that puts Congress in the driver’s seat. Right now, nothing can stop the president from negotiating a trade agreement. Without TPA, Congress can only react to the deal the president puts in front of it. But with TPA, Congress can assert its rightful role throughout the negotiations.

The way it works is simple. Congress lays out about 150 negotiating objectives for the president to pursue, plus a number of transparency and consultation requirements. If the president meets all these requirements, Congress agrees to give the trade agreement an up-or-down vote. But if the president fails to meet them, Congress can cancel the vote, change the agreement, or even stop it altogether.

The bottom line is, TPA will make the trade negotiations much more transparent and hold the president accountable. Here are the top eight ways TPA will empower Congress:

  1. Read the negotiating text

Right now, nothing requires the administration to allow a member of Congress to read the negotiating text of an agreement. But under TPA, every member will be able to read the text of the agreement all throughout the talks.

  1. Receive up-to-date briefings

Sometimes, reading the text isn’t enough. A member of Congress wants to know where the talks are headed. TPA will require the U.S. trade representative’s (USTR) office to brief any member who asks on the status of the negotiations.

  1. Attend negotiating rounds

If that’s not enough, how about actually attending the talks? Under TPA, any interested member will be able to become a “congressional adviser” to U.S. negotiators. All designated congressional advisers will be able to attend negotiating rounds.

  1. Consult with negotiators

TPA will also create House and Senate Advisory Groups on Negotiations to oversee the talks and receive regular briefings, according to a fixed timetable. Any member will be able to submit his or her views to the group.

  1. Provide public summaries

Right now, there’s little public information about how an agreement is shaping up. TPA will require USTR to post up-to-date summaries of each chapter of the agreement so people can see what’s up.

  1. Create with a new transparency officer

TPA will create a chief transparency officer at USTR that will consult with Congress and the public on transparency policies.

  1. Make the text public

The ultimate judge is the American people, so they should be able to read the text themselves. For the first time ever, TPA will codify in law the public’s right to review the agreement before the President puts his signature on it. TPA will require the administration to publish the text of a completed trade agreement at least 60 days before agreeing to it. That’s even before Congress considers a vote.

  1. Tell Congress how he will implement the agreement

Finally, at least 30 days before Congress considers the final bill, the president must tell Congress how he intends to enact the agreement if Congress passes the implementing bill.

All of these tools will shed greater light on the negotiations. We need them to get the most effective trade deals possible. We need them to hold the president accountable. And that’s why we need to establish TPA.