US Chamber presses for trade expansion

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged Congress to give President Obama the authority he needs to move forward on the White House's ambitious trade agenda. 

Myron Brilliant, the Chamber’s executive vice president and head of international affairs, called the mostly Democratic opposition "unfortunate" because the new trade deals would help U.S. workers, farmers and businesses, he wrote in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal

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"Freer trade would also be a boon to economic productivity, creating more jobs at good wages," he wrote.

In his State of the Union address, Obama called for Congress to grant him trade promotion authority (TPA) but Democrats have pushed back against the idea, instead, calling for more time to collaborate on legislation that would provide a framework for lawmakers to be closely involved with shaping the trade deal.

"Renewing TPA would help restore fair competition in trade, and put economic growth in the U.S. ahead of partisan politics," Brilliant said. 

He argued that the TPA allows each branch to perform its constitutional role in the process of forging new trade agreements. 

"Without TPA, U.S. exports will remain at a profound disadvantage," he wrote.

"Renewing TPA would help restore fair competition in trade, and put economic growth in the U.S. ahead of partisan politics."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has cautioned that "everyone would be well-advised not to push this right now," however.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week that she is opposed to the TPA bill introduced by former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

But she isn't against the president's push for expanded trade.

The TPA, often called "fast-track," requires the White House and Congress to work together on trade agreements. Once deals are inked they are subject to an up-or-down vote by lawmakers. 

On Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman appealed to wary Democrats, arguing that trade will help grow the economy and create jobs.

But many Democrats say the exact opposition happens: jobs get shipped overseas and wages for U.S. workers rise too slowly.  

Still, Brilliant argued that the trade deals will lower tariffs, especially for automakers and farmers, and open foreign markets for a broad range of U.S. businesses.

In 2010, the Commerce Department estimated that foreign tariffs reduce the earnings of U.S. factory workers by as much as 12 percent, he wrote. 

"Free trade agreements have eliminated disadvantages in the past," he said. "America's 20 trade-agreement partners represent 10% of the global economy, but they buy nearly half of our exports."

He said that the U.S. has trade surpluses in manufacturing, agriculture and services with those 20 trading partners, unlike the trade deficit it runs with the rest of the world.

"American workers reap the benefits," he said.

Earnings are 18 percent higher for workers in factories that export than in those that don't, according to a 2010 Commerce Department report.

"TPA would give the administration the ability to finish the job in two ongoing trade negotiations," Brilliant wrote.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes 11 other Asia-Pacific and Latin American countries, "could help upend barriers in Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan," he said. "Furthermore, the TPP would unleash economic growth for U.S. exports."

He said the TPP will allow U.S. goods to be sold in booming markets with growing middle classes.

The U.S. also is talking with the 28-nation European Union to negotiate a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Trade between the U.S. and the EU is about $1 trillion a year and employs 15 million workers here and across the Atlantic, he said.