Trade promotion authority is showing signs of life as Republican congressional leaders and senior White House officials try to forge ahead on the one critical area on which they share common ground.  The usual battle lines have been drawn.  Top business groups are urging passage to grant authority for negotiating trade deals.  Union leaders have been lobbying to demonstrate heavy-handed opposition.  On Capitol Hill, rank and file Democratic and Republican members of Congress fall on either side of the issue depending on their constituencies, job market and ideology.  It’s a political tight wire that even Frank Underwood would find challenging to walk. 

Two ongoing trade deals that have been widely covered by press are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). If finalized, both could have significant impacts on world trade as well as the U.S. economy. According to a recent Peterson Institute Report, TPP could increase annual global income by $295 billion ($78 billion for the U.S.) in 2025, and if it leads to a wider free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific Region, that could mean a $1.9 trillion ($267 billion for the U.S.) income gain for the region. TTIP would result in similar gains for both sides of Atlantic. 


However, there is one major roadblock to these negotiations on the U.S. side: Congress has failed to grant Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), previously known as fast-track authority, to president. In a nutshell, by granting Trade Promotion Authority to the president, Congress agrees on an expedited legislative procedure without amendments provided the president observes certain statutory obligations. Without TPA, the possibility of unlimited congressional debate and amendments could result in hesitation by other negotiating parties, negatively impacting the future of any trade deal. In the light of increasing partisan behavior in DC, it is hard to imagine anyone willing to put their best cards on the table to conduct serious discussions with their American counterparts. 

There is more at stake than economic benefits in these trade negotiations. Given that 95 percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of its purchasing power resides outside of the United States, the potential gains in U.S. exports from these trade deals could result in much needed economic growth. In fact, according to a recent Department of Commerce study, exports have contributed more to the growth of the U.S. economy during the current recovery than in previous recoveries and was responsible for 30 percent of gross domestic product growth over the past five years. 

However, these new negotiations are also shaping the future of how businesses operate globally. Constant changes in technology bring new forms of businesses to the table. The widespread usage of the Internet is making e-commerce an increasingly important part of the global economy.  Crafting the rules for these new businesses, as well as covering important issues such as strong environmental and labor standards and robust intellectual property rights framework, are even more important in today's world. The U.S. should be a key player in these discussions to ensure a level playing field for U.S. businesses.   

A natural question is what will happen if the current gridlock in U.S. politics continues? Will the world wait for U.S. to get their act together? 

Probably not. U.S. trade representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanOn The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks US trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report MORE expressed it more eloquently in a recent Foreign Policy oped: “The economic implications are stark, but so too are the strategic ones. Sitting on the sidelines, we’ll see our partnerships weakened as they’re deprived of the strength that comes from enhanced economic relationships, and we’ll miss the opportunity to forge new habits of cooperation among key partners.” 

In the current political environment, TPA has morphed into something bigger: It will show a united front for American politics abroad, where our leadership has appeared to be bitterly divided, and reinforce strong U.S. support for free trade. It will also symbolize the desire to work together with our allies.      

Wilber is a senior economist for the American Council for Capital Formation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting pro-capital formation policies and cost-effective regulatory policies.