TPA – Putting Congress back in charge and improving transparency

History shows that when America turns its back on free trade, the results are disastrous. Most notably in 1807, Congress passed a self-imposed, peacetime embargo that banned nearly all American exports, which subsequently resulted in the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) plummeting by five percent in just 15 months. In 1930, Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, raising import tariffs to historically high levels.  This action was one of the factors contributing to an over 50 percent reduction in U.S. trade and a huge drop in GDP.  In each case, these experiments were swiftly halted, and the ensuing lessons were clear: actions which inhibit trade hurt economic opportunity for hard-working Americans.  

The U.S. House will soon consider Trade Protection Authority (TPA), a key free trade agreement that will help determine our nation’s long-term economic future.  By passing TPA, Congress can directly shape the ground rules for trade and pave the way for a brighter American future. In fact, trade is a rare issue where many conservatives in Congress and the president agree.  It would be a shame to pass up this opportunity.  

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Currently, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States, presenting almost limitless opportunity for American exporters to reach new and diverse markets.  Given our nation’s sluggish economic growth, we should welcome the prospect of new customers for our exporters. In May, America’s economic growth was revised down 0.7 percent, largely in part to sluggish exports. Alternatively, increasing American sales to global customers will not only boost our economy, it will also foster good jobs here at home. One in five American jobs rely on international trade in some way, and those jobs pay on average 18 percent more than non-trade related jobs.   

To create American jobs, however, we first have to strike the right trade agreement, which is why TPA is so critical. One of the greatest benefits of TPA is that it allows Congress to set the agenda upfront, prior to the conclusion of trade negotiations. This legislation outlines the rules of the road: 150 requirements, including lower tariffs, which are designed to protect America’s vested interests. Many of these requirements reflect 21st Century concerns that have not been addressed in past free trade agreements. For instance, for the first time, TPA includes provisions to address the growing role of the internet in the global economy, while also reinforcing intellectual property rights.  

In addition to laying out the rules of the road, TPA also sets up guardrails to ensure President Obama and future presidents cannot use TPA to further their own political agendas. Instead of pursuing pet-projects like climate change regulations that would hurt American businesses, the president is forced to follow the objectives laid out by Congress. TPA also holds the president accountable by increasing transparency throughout the negotiating process through the finalization of an agreement. TPA further gives Congress the ability to turn off the process if it finds the administration is not following the rules and staying inside the guardrails.   

The Constitution makes it clear that Congress — and only Congress — can change U.S. law. TPA reinforces this restriction by making sure Congress’ objectives are known that the outset, instead of relegating its involvement to the end of the process. More importantly, however, it makes sure that the American people are involved in the process and know exactly what any free trade agreement means for them.

Given a choice between more economic freedom for Americans or less, we always choose more. That’s what makes America great.  Global trade is not simply a good thing for our country, it is a great thing.  Let’s seize this opportunity to kick-start our economy.

Flores has represented Texas’ 17th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Brady has represented Texas’ 8th Congressional District since 1997. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee.