A bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday proposed a bill to authorize the Trade Promotion Authority, a measure that would allow President Barack Obama to "fast-track" key trade deals by limiting Congress' ability to tack on amendments.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and House Ways and Means Committee Chair David Camp, R-Mich., introduced the measure.
Farm groups and business organizations have been pushing approval of the measure as negotiations continue on two large trade deals. TPA hasn't been approved since 2007.
Though it limits amendments, the TPA does require that the Executive Branch seek input from Congress before, during and after negotiations. It also allows Congress to specify negotiating objectives that the Executive Branch must pursue.
Without the TPA, says the American Farm Bureau, other countries are reluctant to finalize negotiations with the United States for fear that any hard-won trade agreement could be undone through amendments in Congress.
AFBF in a Thursday statement called the TPA "the catalyst needed to advance U.S. proposals to reduce tariffs and improve market access for farmers and ranchers in trade negotiations."
"This trade negotiation authority is needed now," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "For negotiations to keep moving forward on the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership discussions, we need the TPA authority in place."
"The U.S. market is one of the most open in the world, yet our farmers and ranchers face high tariffs and other noncompetitive practices when they try to export their products," said Stallman. "For U.S. agriculture to thrive, we have to correct these disparities and level the playing field."
According to Stallman, the current TPP and TTIP negotiations are the best chance to expand U.S. trade opportunities. AFBF estimates that, on average, one out of every three acres in the U.S. is planted for export. Further, they said, farmers and ranchers earn 25% of their farm income from exports.
TPA would help TPP, but…
Other groups are also involved in the push to enact TPA legislation. Livestock interests, like the National Pork Producers Council, say the TPA would provide means to conclude a successful TPP deal – but, they add, it's essential to have a TPP deal to approve in the first place.
The group has previously been cautious about Japan's entry into TPP talks, pointing out that the country is demanding special treatment for its agriculture sector, including exclusion from the agreement or special protection of certain "sensitive" products.
That proposition, they say, will open the door to similar demands from other countries and "set a terrible precedent," affecting future trade agreements, including the TTIP.
"Getting TPA introduced and approved is an important step in the trade process, and we are supportive," said NPPC President Randy Spronk, "but our main focus will be making sure Japan eliminates farm tariffs at least as quickly as was done by South Korea in its trade deal with the U.S."
NPPC and a coalition of 16 other groups in December warned that if Japan's farm tariffs aren't eliminated, they will work to oppose the entire TPP.