As the House approaches a vote on trade promotion authority—or TPA—opponents are doing their very best to confuse people by conflating two completely different things: a procedural mechanism for trade agreements and an actual agreement itself. With all the acronyms floating around—TPA, TPP, TTIP, TAA, TISA—some confusion is understandable. But let’s cut through the cloud of dust that free trade critics have thrown up and get to the facts.
For starters, the House is not about to vote on any trade agreement. In fact, no new trade agreement is even completed. The United States is negotiating an important trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that could help us, instead of China, write the rules of the global economy and level the playing field for American workers. But that agreement is far from done, and it is NOT what the House is about to vote on.
The House is only set to vote on a procedure associated with trade agreements. What the House is considering is a reauthorization of TPA. This is a process that helps us deliver the best trade agreements possible, while asserting Congress into the process. A vote for TPA, is not a vote for TPP or any other trade agreement. In fact, TPA explicitly guarantees that no trade agreement can go into force without separate congressional approval for each deal.
Any vote on a trade agreement is still months away. If TPA is adopted, that will allow our trade negotiators to complete TPP. That will take time itself. But even then, it will be months—probably four or five—before Congress votes on it. In this way, TPA is a lot more like “slow-track” than “fast-track,” as the unions call it. Here’s why:
The public will be able to read any agreement long (like, really long) before Congress votes on it. For the first time, under this TPA bill, the text of an agreement must be made public and posted online for 60 days before the president can even sign off on it. That’s 60 days for the American people to read the deal. Only then does it go to Congress where there’ll be another month or two of debate. There’ll be no shortage of transparency on trade agreements if we pass TPA, which, again, is a procedure, not an agreement.
So Congress is a long way away from voting on any trade agreement. TPA, the bill that will be voted on soon, is purely the process for securing them. We need TPA, because we need more trade agreements. But we need good agreements, and if a deal doesn’t meet Congress’s standards, Congress can vote it down. Simple as that.