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Horowitz: Give Obama Fast Track Authority on Asian Trade Pact

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Rob Horowitz

President Obama is on the cusp of a major trade breakthrough that has the potential to further open up the potent and growing Asian market to US goods and services. The nearly concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement encompasses 11 Asian countries, along with Canada and Mexico. With 525 million middle class consumers today and an expected 3.2 billion by 2030, better access to the Asian market is a key to creating good paying jobs and generating sustainable economic growth here at home

In order to conclude this agreement on the terms most favorable to the United States, President Obama needs Congress to adopt Trade Promotion Authority Legislation, more commonly known as ‘Fast Track.” This strengthens the President’s hand by providing for Congress to commit to an up and down vote on the agreement negotiated by the President without amendments. Fast Track Authority doesn’t give the President a blank check. In the legislation granting this authority—authority that has traditionally been given with bi-partisan support to Presidents over the past 40 years-- negotiating priorities and conditions are spelled out. And at the end of the day, of course, if the agreement is unacceptable to Congress, it can turn it down.

While there are some important points left to resolve, the agreement as it now stands includes reduced or eliminated tariffs for American goods, streamlined  customs rules for American businesses, requirements for participating nations to put in place more progressive labor standards including a minimum wage and a ban on child labor, tougher environmental standards, new rules to limit the unfair advantage of state-owned companies, and movement towards a free and open internet, according to the Office of United States Trade Representative.

As President Obama said in one of his recent weekly national radio addresses, “We can’t surrender to the future -- because we are meant to win the future. If America doesn’t shape the rules of the global economy today, to benefit our workers, while our economy is in a position of new global strength, then China will write those rules.”

As is often is the case on trade deals, the majority of Republicans in Congress agree with a Democratic President. This is one of the rare issues in today's polarized partisan politics that does not break down strictly along party lines.  For example, House Ways and Means Committee Chair and former Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan told Stars and Stripes that the trade agreement was a rare instance where he and Obama “sound alike”:  “We both need to grow our economies faster. We believe we are going to write the rules of global trade in this region and write them in a way that will benefit everybody," said Ryan.
The difficulty will be rounding up sufficient Democratic votes in both Houses, where there is strong opposition and respected progressive Democratic leaders, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), whom believe past trade deals have been bad for American workers, are sounding the alarm.

The merits of the argument are with the President. In a tough competitive global economy, we must boldly seize the economic future. That is what this Trade Agreement helps us accomplish.  Let’s give the President the Fast Track Authority he needs to complete this important task.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at University of Rhode Island.


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