For World Trade Week, Why Couldn’t Obama Persuade Harry Reid To Take Up Trade Fast-Tracking?

Stephen DeMaura President, Americans for Job Security
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By official proclamation, President Obama recently declared World Trade Week in the United States. Over the week of May 18-24, he called for “events, trade shows, and educational programs that celebrate and inform Americans about the benefits of trade to our Nation and the global economy.” Those are all fine ideas and would certainly do their part to help raise awareness of the role international trade plays in all of our lives. But there’s one body in particular that could use some presidential encouragement. In the spirit of World Trade Week, the president should have pressed the Congress to pass trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation to boost America’s exports and grow our economy.

Trade promotion authority grants the president certain powers to expedite the negotiation of trade agreements with other nations on behalf of the United States, with Congress maintaining careful oversight of the process and ultimately the power to support or reject any agreement. Presidents have been routinely granted TPA since the 1930s, until the most recent authorization expired in 2007. Seven years later, Congress continues to drag its feet and American workers are the ones getting hurt. Partisan bickering – much of it coming from the president’s own party – is keeping our country from reaching its full trading potential. To hold up TPA is to hold up trade agreements that – if finalized – would greatly expand the market for America’s quality goods and services.

One such trade agreement, which the president mentioned in his World Trade Week proclamation, is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. The president says the TTIP – a trade agreement between the United States and the countries of the European Union – would “grow prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic” and the numbers agree.  Taken together, the U.S. and E.U. economies make up nearly half of the world’s GDP – 45 percent – and trade between the two already generates nearly $3 billion every single day. The TTIP agreement promises the streamlining of regulations to remove existing trade barriers. That’s good for business and good for workers too. But without TPA, TTIP remains bogged down.

The president also drew attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement under negotiation between the U.S. and eleven countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The president promised that TPP “will lower barriers to trade, create jobs in America…and open up markets to our exports in the world’s fastest-growing region.” The region is indeed growing and at a rapid pace. The U.S. already holds individual trade agreements with some countries in the region and among those nations alone, trade in goods and services has increased by an astonishing amount since 2006. And that’s only trade with a handful of TPP countries. If the new trade agreement were signed, even more markets would be opened up. Here again, blocking TPA holds up this process.

So who exactly is blocking TPA and slowing down these trade deals on both sides of the globe? Some of the most strident voices in the opposition come from the Democratic leadership in Congress. Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “everyone would be well-advised not to push” TPA, while his House counterpart, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, called trade promotion “out of the question” and “unacceptable.” In what is surely not a coincidence, this is similar to the position adopted by Big Labor leaders like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who called TPA legislation “undemocratic.”

In fact, allowing goods and services to flow more freely around the world generating wealth would seem like a very “democratic” notion. Trumka’s apprehensiveness, however, is understandable. Free trade threatens the protectionist policies that Big Labor favors, which don’t help the American worker but help consolidate power for union bosses like Trumka.

Democratic leaders in Congress might be too afraid to stand up to Big Labor, but we expect more from the president. In his World Trade Week proclamation, he adroitly observed, “As our global economy evolves, as countries forge ever-stronger links, the United States must not stand on the sidelines.” The president should call on Congress to pass TPA, and get our country off the sidelines and onto the field. His fervent support of World Trade Week should inspire him to do just that.

Stephen DeMaura is the president of Americans for Job Security.