Perversity of US Fast-Track Legislation

By | April 21, 2015

It’s called “fast-track” but it’s no such thing. What’s unfolding in the US Congress is bizarre.

The rationale behind fast track – or Trade Promotion Authority – is to give the President a Congressional mandate to negotiate and sign trade agreements with the assurance that, once signed, the Americans wont then come back to the negotiating table demanding more concessions to secure Congressional approval of the deal.

Without fast-track, other countries won’t sign a deal with the Americans, knowing that domestic US interests will push the Congress to insist on even more concessions.

To avoid this, fast-track authority restricts the Congress to either approve or vote down the entire agreement. There is no right to insist on amendments to a signed treaty. It’s either yes or no.

Now, with the games being played between Republicans and Democrats, fast-track is being twisted out of shape, with all sorts of riders are being attached that distort the very reason for fast track in the first place.

The latest TPA bill was tabled in the Senate Finance Committee last week. It contains provisions allowing Congress to remove fast-track, ex post facto, if the Executive doesn’t meet stiff consultation requirements, fails to meet some as yet undefined congressional negotiating objectives or for other reasons that Congress doesn’t approve.

In other words, it’s a pig-in-a-poke.

Other countries negotiating with the Americans in the crucial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, for example, will have no idea, once final comprises are made and a deal is concluded, whether the Congress will unilaterally determine that it fails to pass muster and fast-track authority will be cancelled.

What a mess.

It’s a regrettable reflection of the intensity of partisan politics in Washington and the fact that American politicians have little regard for US leadership in international trade or what the rest of the world expects when they sit down to the negotiating table with the United States.