President Obama is seeking to legislation to fast track Trade Promotion Authority so as to put into place two crucial trade agreements that U.S. diplomats have negotiated among partner nations. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a 12-nation deal among Pacific Rim countries such as Mexico, Australia, Canada, and Chile that together comprise 40 percent the world’s gross domestic product. Fast track would require Congress to provide an up-or-down vote on the two deals. The second agreement facing debate is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with European nations.
Opposition to the fast track has made for strange bedfellows in Congress, placing pro-labor Democrats and conservative Republicans on the same side against Obama. For example, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont) is opposed since he is unhappy with Obama’s track record in negotiating with foreign governments. Also cautious about the deals are the two senators for Montana, Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines.
Montana’s wheat lobby has supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership ever since negotiations commenced in 2013. In 2014, wheat represented $1.3 billion in business for Montana. Most of its exports go to the Asia Pacific region, and faces steep competition from Australia which is making its own agreements with customers. TPP is being touted as providing a level playing field for wheat by setting basic ground rules for all exporters. The wheat lobby is concerned that if the U.S. fails to enact TPP, U.S. growers will lose ground to competitors. Japan has long kept agriculture out of previous trade agreements, but would have to answer for its tariffs and quotas on U.S. grain should the deal be enacted.
President Obama has voiced strong support for the bill, touting it as good for American business and jobs. In fact, on April 21 Obama contradicted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for her opposition to his trade policies. "When you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong," he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. The president gave assurances that he has the best interests of Americans at heart and would not negotiate free-trade agreements “if I did not think it would be good for the middle class.”
TPA would give Congress the authority to set negotiating objectives, but would restrict them to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals. U.S. labor unions fear the deal will favor big U.S. corporations at the expense of American jobs. Labor unions and their political supporters have been outspoken in opposing fast track. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a pro-labor Democrat from Michigan, has been a leading voice against fast track. In January 2015, Kildee urged the Obama administration to "start over" on TPP. He demanded strong provisions against currency manipulations by Asian nations such as Japan that hurt manufacturers such as General Motors. He cited such manipulation as a major impediment for auto manufacturers. Japan’s manipulation of the yen against the dollar has given Japanese automakers an advantage over cars built in the U.S. Currency manipulation, said Kildee, is "the biggest hurdle we face, particularly in the auto sector, when it comes to global trade and our trade imbalance." In an appearance on C-SPAN, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen said that the planned agreement would make it easier for foreign corporations to “off-shore our jobs.”
Another Democrat, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow plans to introduce amendments to the proposed legislation on currency manipulation, among other issues. Without strong currency enforcement, said Stabenow, fast track and other trade bills will not have her vote.
Almost 300 U.S. business groups want the fast track deal. In a letter they sent to Congress, the group letter stated, "To realize the potential of these agreements for U.S. jobs, economic growth and competitiveness, Congress must pass Trade Promotion Authority." The National Association of Manufacturers was also a signatory of the letter. The letter was delivered to members of Congress on April 20, stating "Our chambers of commerce, manufacturing organizations, and farm bureaus represent millions of companies, workers, farmers, and ranchers from every sector of the economy and every state in the union."
Speaking on C-SPAN
, Linda Dempsey of the National Manufacturers Association, touted fast track in an interview with Pedro Echeverría
. Dempsey said on April 21 that the global economy is “tilted against us,” while arguing in favor of fast track and the two trade deals. “Manufacturers in the United States, from the smallest to the largest, are competing in a global economy. And that global economy right is tilted against us. Our manufacturers are facing high tariffs and other barriers in the TPP
countries and elsewhere around the world, while the U.S market it largely open. We need new trade agreements to supercharge our exports, our sales, our opportunities…”