Newspaper article Roll Call

The New Congress Can Change Asia-Pacific Trade

Newspaper article Roll Call

The New Congress Can Change Asia-Pacific Trade

Article excerpt

The recent APEC Summit in Beijing was an impressive photo opportunity for President Barack Obama and a cast of Asia-Pacific leaders. But the midterms are of more importance to the forum's original mandate of Asia-Pacific economic cooperation.

A new Republican-dominated Congress provides the opportunity for new trade agreements to be struck between the US and other countries. The most significant of these is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement between the U.S. and 12 other nations. It was announced by President Obama and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Australia in 2011.

Why is the new Congress significant for trade? There are two reasons.

First, the U.S.'s major trade agreements have only been struck when the administration has been given a negotiating mandate by Congress in the form of "fast track" legislation. This enables acceptance or rejection of the entire agreement, avoiding cherry- picking of what's in and what's out.

The previous incarnations of fast-track gave rise to a raft of trade agreements through the Bush administration. The Clinton administration was able to ratify the WTO Uruguay round with congressional approval signed seven years earlier under Reagan.

The second is simpler: The GOP has a better record on trade. Democratic opposition runs deep. Organized labor, protectionist, environmental campaign groups and the public health lobby have made their dislike of free trade agreements clear and lobbied Democrat lawmakers accordingly. The last fast-track bill in 2002 was passed along narrow partisan lines.

The newest incarnation of fast-track - the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act drafted earlier this year and currently before three committees - is different to its predecessors.

The bill gives USTR a mandate to turn trade agreements into a tool for something else, namely enforcement of non-trade regulations favored by Democrats close to these issues, such as environmental policies, labor conditions and public health. …

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