TPA gives Congress and the American people a voice on trade

Right now, the Obama administration is negotiating multiple trade agreements with ad hoc and informal direction from Congress, leaving the American people and their representatives in Washington without a strong voice on trade priorities.

That will change once Congress renews Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

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The Senate recognized this when they passed the Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA 2015), legislation to renew TPA, with a strong bipartisan vote. And in doing so, the upper chamber took the first step to give themselves and their constituents a stronger say on trade.

With action turning to the House, the case for this bipartisan trade tool could not be more clear: TPA 2015 puts Congress back in control of trade policy and is essential to securing high-standard trade agreements.

Put simply, TPA is the most important tool Congress has in its arsenal to advance a robust trade agenda that will boost American exports and create new economic opportunities and better jobs for American workers, manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs.

TPA reaffirms Congress’s oversight of trade agreements and ensures that Congress has a voice to set priorities before a trade agreement is finalized. By setting clear negotiating objectives in TPA, Congress is able to specify what a potential trade agreement must contain in order to gain passage — allowing lawmakers to see that the needs of their constituents are met in any trade deal.

Congress has not passed a TPA bill since 2002, and the world has changed dramatically in the last 13 years. For that reason, TPA 2015 updates congressional negotiating objectives to focus trade agreements on setting fair rules and tearing down barriers to trade in the 21st century economy.

Specifically, the TPA bill the House will soon consider contains the clearest articulation of congressional trade priorities in our nation’s history, including nearly 150 ambitious, high-standard negotiating objectives that are designed to increase American exports and create international trade rules that reflect America’s economic priorities and values.

These objectives are clear and targeted. With TPA, not only will unfair tariff barriers be reduced or eliminated, but future trade agreements must also include strong international rules to counter unfair trade practices, including those related to currency, digital piracy, cross-border data flows, cyber theft of trade secrets, localization barriers, non-scientific sanitary and phyto-sanitary practices, state-owned enterprises, and labor and environmental policies.

Passing TPA will require the administration to meet these trade objectives in any trade deal — a win for American exporters from industries throughout our economy.

But, in order for these American exporters to be protected by these objectives, our trade negotiators must first deliver on a trade deal. And to deliver on a trade deal, our trading partners need the confidence to close a deal. TPA will give them that confidence.

With TPA in place, our negotiating partners are far more likely to put their best offers to lower trade barriers for American exporters on the table because they are guaranteed that the agreement they sign will be the one Congress will consider.   Without TPA, they have no such guarantees.

Most importantly, TPA provides these assurances to our trade negotiators and partners while still giving Congress the final say to approve or disapprove any potential trade agreement.

Today, the United States is negotiating two very ambitious trade agreements in Asia and Europe — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to the World Bank, together these two trade agreements would further open markets encompassing nearly 1.3 billion customers and approximately 60 percent of the world economy. These and future trade agreements expand opportunities for American workers and their products.

But without TPA, the United States will not be able to successfully conclude these international trade agreements. Indeed, many of our trading partners have already said that they will not close a deal until Congress renews TPA.

It is clear: The time to pass TPA is now. This trade debate can no longer wait as the rest of the world is rapidly moving forward.

Supporting TPA will allow the United States to close high-standard trade agreements that will help support the creation of new, high-paying jobs for American workers, while giving the American people and their lawmakers in Washington a strong voice on trade. Without it, the administration will continue to go it alone, and the United States will continue to fall behind.

Hatch is Utah’s senior senator, serving since 1977. He is chairman of the Finance Committee and also sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and the Judiciary committees.