What we can achieve with TPA legislation

To call the state of world affairs “disturbing” today would probably be an understatement.  “Unstable” might be a more accurate description.  Conflict seems to be the order of the day in many parts of the globe.  In Europe, Vladimir Putin’s belligerence continues to fan the flames of the Ukraine crisis as fears of an all-out Russian invasion mount.  The Middle East is the convergence of conflicts – well-organized Islamic extremists run rampant throughout Iraq, Syria’s civil war rages on and Iran inches closer to nuclear weaponry, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows few serious signs of finally abating.

The role of the United States in all of these various conflagrations has been – and will continue to be – hotly debated.  But as our country continues to adapt to a changing world and face the challenges of the 21st Century, one thing remains clear: we must maintain strong relationships with our friends and allies.  And how better to do this than by strengthening the bonds that link countries together in open, mutually beneficial international trade?

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That’s exactly what we can achieve with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between the United States and eleven other countries of the Pacific Rim.  Included are countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean with a market of 793 million consumers between them.  Nearly $2 trillion in trade flows between the U.S. and other TPP countries, which include three of our top five trading partners.  And U.S.-TPP trade is only increasing, jumping 46 percent between 2009 and 2012.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which has been under negotiation for more than four years, would remove trade barriers and streamline regulations in order to help goods and services flow even more freely between these nations.  The impact would be significant: $77 billion annually pumped into the American economy and the creation of an additional 700,000 new American jobs.

The president recently praised TPP in an interview with The Economist stating that he saw it not only as a positive for the United States, but for burgeoning economies like Vietnam and Malaysia as well.  Just this week, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang expressed his own enthusiastic support of TPP to visiting Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Unfortunately, one key piece of the puzzle remains missing: Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  Since the Franklin Roosevelt Administration, Congress has granted the president power via TPA to expedite trade deals on behalf of the United States, with appropriate Congressional oversight.  The last TPA legislation was passed in 2002; however, it expired in 2007. 

Trade Promotion Authority legislation has gone nowhere in this Congress, thanks to conspicuous inaction by Democratic leadership in both Houses.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have signaled their opposition to TPA, despite the president’s specific request for “bipartisan trade promotion authority” in his State of the Union Address in January.  This obstructionism may stem from the fierce opposition to TPA among union bosses.  Big Labor is known for having a decidedly protectionist, anti-trade agenda and the Democratic politicians they support – like Leaders Reid and Pelosi – are far too beholden to campaign cash to go against them.

This is a shortsighted view that only amounts to a willful hindrance of American economic growth.  It’s time for Democrats in Congress to listen to President Obama and the millions of Americans whose jobs depend on trade and pass TPA legislation.  That will speed up the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, boosting our economy and creating jobs, while also solidifying the bonds of commerce with our allies around the world.

DeMaura is president of Americas for Job Security, a pro-business organization.