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A bipartisan trade proposal to support our economy

Katherine Tai
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 20, 2022. With world economies all suffering from more than two years of the coronavirus pandemic and global supply problems exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has an “incredible opportunity” to engage with other nations from a common playing field and forge new partnerships and agreements, the top U.S. trade negotiator told The Associated Press.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Over the past two years, Congress has delivered bipartisan results to invest in American competitiveness and strengthen our communities.

Last year, Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to rebuild American roads and bridges, invest in American manufacturing, and expand internet access in underserved areas. And just a few months ago, Congress passed the Chips and Science Act to bring more semiconductor manufacturing back to the United States and invest in basic science and technology research. These key acts demonstrated that we can solve some of our biggest challenges by working across the aisle.

However, this Congress has been unable to reach agreement on one important topic: international trade. The cost of inaction has been high.

China has moved swiftly to expand its trading relationships in the Indo-Pacific with its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement, and U.S. allies have moved forward without us in implementing their own version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Twenty years ago, the United States was the top trading partner for most countries in the world. Today, a map of trade flows would show the United States eclipsed by China as almost every country’s top trading partner.

Faced with this reality, both the House and the Senate have passed some trade legislation, but Congress has sent nothing to the president’s desk. The consequences of failing to open new markets for U.S. exporters, help workers hurt by trade, fight unfair trade practices, and reauthorize expiring trade benefit programs all adds up to two things: fewer good jobs for American workers and weakened U.S. influence around the world.

That’s why we’re outlining a bipartisan trade proposal that Congress should pass this month.

There are reasons to be optimistic that a bipartisan agreement is possible before year’s end. Plenty of trade legislation has passed either the House or Senate this Congress, creating a universe of priorities to draw upon. And it is possible that critical programs that have expired will languish for many years if a consensus is not reached now.

One such program is Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which helps retrain workers who lose their jobs due to foreign trade. TAA expired over the summer, leaving workers without access to this essential benefit. A responsible agreement should include a clean reauthorization of TAA until the end of 2025, which will help ensure that U.S. workers affected by trade can access the benefits they deserve and rebuild successful careers.

TAA is historically passed in tandem with Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which streamlines the process for the president to negotiate and Congress to pass trade agreements that benefit the United States. The politics of trade have evolved considerably since TPA was last passed in 2015, and a bipartisan trade package that includes TPA will allow Congress to set updated trade policy priorities for the president.

Our Trading System Preservation Act would provide TPA for the president to negotiate sector specific trade agreements with like-minded partners at the World Trade Organization, and it would be a strong addition to a bipartisan trade package. Including this bill would enable the United States to expand trade with our allies while preventing China from reaping the benefits of that market access. We are pleased that U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai spoke positively about our proposal last year at the Senate Finance Committee.

We also believe it important for the United States to engage all regions of the world and work with like-minded partners to set high global standards for international trade. To this end, our TPA proposal also includes authority to negotiate comprehensive free trade agreements with a diverse series of countries on four continents: the United Kingdom, Kenya, Taiwan, and Ecuador.

Two other essential — yet expired — trade programs are the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). GSP expands our trading relationships with developing countries and gives the president another tool for international influence. MTB supports U.S. manufacturers that rely on inputs from abroad. Both of these programs should be reauthorized with retroactive relief for duties paid. 

While we expand trade, we also are cognizant that certain countries — notably China — have a long history of engaging in unfair trade practices that threaten free markets, erode our industrial base, and undermine American workers. This is why we believe that a bipartisan trade package should strengthen our antidumping and countervailing duty laws to challenge China’s unfair trade practices and protect American jobs. One of us has already proposed [portman.senate.gov] such legislation with strong bipartisan support.

We know that in Congress, it’s often easier to kick the can down the road another year — or five. But on trade, the stakes for our economy are too high, and the time is ripe for bipartisan progress right now.

Rob Portman is ranking member of the Foreign Relations Multilateral International Development Subcommittee and Chris Coons is chairman of the Foreign Relations Multilateral International Development Subcommittee.

Tags Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement trade trade adjustment assistance Trade promotion authority

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