Here we go again. Opponents of free trade agreements are once again trotting out bogeymen intended to scare people out of supporting trade promotion authority (TPA)—this time, suggesting that a future trade agreement will lead to some kind of new world governance structure with vast powers over the United States. If that sounds a little far-fetched, it’s because it is. Let’s take a look.
At issue are the committees included in trade deals that allow participating nations to regularly review operations of an agreement over time and consider recommendations to update and improve it. These are not new. They’re a regular part of the previous trade agreements the United States has signed. And yet no international committee is rewriting U.S. law. Go figure.
- These committees have no independent authority to issue any regulations or otherwise compel the United States or any other member to change its policies or laws. The committee can propose whatever it likes, but it has no power over U.S. law whatsoever.
- These committees operate by consensus, so any proposed changes to a trade agreement would have to be agreed to by all member countries. Consensus means the United States can block any changes that it does not agree with. In short, we have veto power.
- But what if all nations do decide they want to make changes to a trade agreement? Congress has to vote to approve them before they can take effect.
- The same goes for the addition of any new nation to a trade agreement. Even if all participating nations decide they want to add a new member nation, Congress has the ultimate say over whether it can be allowed to join. An agreement or any changes to it – whether with a current or new partner – cannot come into force unless and until Congress passes an implementing bill. Section 8 of TPA reaffirms that only Congress can change U.S. law.
- In addition, even if a proposed change to a trade agreement is contemplated that would require a change in U.S. law, all of TPA’s congressional notification, consultation, and transparency requirements would apply. Congress would have the final say.
The bottom line is, TPA preserves U.S. sovereignty—explicitly. New provisions in TPA affirm that trade agreements cannot change U.S. law without Congressional action, nor prevent the United States from changing its law in the future. In addition, a new TPA provision confirms that U.S. law prevails in the event of a conflict.
Still don’t believe us? Well then let’s look at a real-world example. The recently-passed U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement has 19 committees, including a “Joint Committee” that serves as a template for the committees in the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership.
- The rules are clear: “All decisions of the Joint Committee and all committees, working groups, and other bodies established under this Agreement shall be taken by consensus of the Parties.”
- The Rules of Procedures are available online. Nothing in them allows for the creation of an independent body. And they make clear that all parties must agree to any decisions.
Trade agreements are about tearing down barriers to American exports. And trade promotion authority is about setting up the rules to get the best agreements, while preserving Congress’ control over the process. If TPA opponents’ claims sound too wacky to be true, they probably are. And the threat of new committees usurping American sovereignty is no exception.