Every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has had some mechanism like trade promotion authority (TPA) to help advance America’s trade agenda. Otherwise, it’s difficult to complete agreements and get the best deals from our trading partners. Still, some have asserted that our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, didn’t have or need TPA to expand trade. That, however, is just a myth.
The fact is President Reagan had TPA for nearly the entirety of his presidency and used it to sign trade agreements with Israel and Canada and launch the Uruguay Round of negotiations, which created the World Trade Organization.
Here’s the background. President Reagan had negotiating authority that was enacted through:
- the Trade Act of 1979 (PL 96-39)—providing TPA authority through January 1988;
- the Trade and Tariff Act of 1984 (PL 98-573)—providing specific authority to negotiate a trade agreement with Israel; and
- the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 (PL 100-418)—providing TPA authority through June 1993.
And what did he do with TPA? President Reagan successfully negotiated bilateral trade agreements with Israel (1985) and Canada (1988) that were implemented in Congress pursuant to TPA authorities.
Under TPA authorities granted in 1979 and 1984, President Reagan launched the Uruguay Round in 1986—though it was not completed during his presidency.
President Clinton signed the Uruguay Round in 1994 pursuant to TPA authority that was provided in the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 (sought and signed into law by Reagan) and extended through April 1994 by statute (PL 103-49). That statute specifically extended TPA authority for the purposes of finishing the Uruguay Round.
President Reagan understood the necessity of TPA and the importance of trade. As he said in remarks in 1985 calling for negotiating authority legislation:
“Our commitment to free trade is undiminished. We will vigorously pursue our policy of promoting free and open markets in this country and around the world. We will insist that all nations face up to their responsibilities of preserving and enhancing free trade everywhere.”