Source: By Rob Vandenheuvel, California Milk Producers Council
When reading articles on the trade discussions, it can often feel like you’re stuck in an awful Junior High text message with acronyms thrown around freely. USTR, TPA, TAA, AGOA, TPP…wanna throw in an LOL or BRB?
Before explaining what Congress did this past month, let’s briefly explain these acronyms:
• USTR – U.S. Trade Representative: Michael Froman current serves in this role. This is an appointed Cabinet position serving under the President, responsible for “developing and coordinating U.S. international trade, commodity, and direct investment policy, and overseeing negotiations with other countries.” Basically, when the U.S. is interested in entering into a trade agreement with a foreign nation, the USTR is our main representative.
• TPA – Trade Promotion Authority (also known as “fast track”): This authority is given to the President from Congress for use in negotiating trade agreements with foreign nations. Under TPA, as these negotiations are ongoing, there are specific requirements to consult with and notify Congressional leaders of progress. In return, at the end of the negotiation, Congress still needs to either support or oppose the agreement, but it is a simple up-or-down vote – no amendments are allowed. This authority is understandably critical in negotiating a successful trade agreement, as it is highly unlikely a foreign nation would be willing or able to agree to terms of a negotiation with the knowledge that Congress can always amend those terms later on. The previous term of this authority expired in 2007, although any agreements that began prior to that expiration were allowed to continue under the TPA rules.
• TAA – Trade Adjustment Assistance: This is a federal government program that “provides a path for employment growth and opportunity through aid to U.S. workers who have lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade.” The services available to displaced workers under this program include: job training, job search and relocation allowances, income support, and assistance with healthcare premium costs.
• AGOA – African Growth and Opportunity Act: This law, which originated in 2000, provides special trade preferences on the imports of certain products (primarily apparel and textiles) from eligible sub-Saharan African countries. The provisions of this law must be renewed this year or they will expire.
• TPP – Trans Pacific Partnership: This is an ongoing negotiation currently amongst twelve “Trans Pacific” countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. These discussions have been ongoing for many years, with the U.S. beginning our involvement in the talks in 2008.
So now that we know what all these pieces mean, what did Congress do this past week? For quite some time, President Obama has been seeking to renew TPA, stating that the U.S.’s ability to complete the TPP negotiations was contingent on having that authority (an understandable point, given that negotiations with 11 potential trading partners at once is tough enough; add in the ability for Congress to amend it after the fact and it becomes impossible). The TAA program – a stated priority for many Congressional Democrats – is also set to expire later this year.
Earlier this month, Senators from both parties approved a bill that would address both issues – renew TPA and extend TAA. When that bill was brought before the House of Representatives, Congressional Democrats rallied angrily in opposition, even voting down the TAA provisions that many of them express support for.
In the end, a small group of Congressional Democrats joined most of the Republicans to approve TPA renewal as a stand-alone (without the TAA provisions attached) and sent that back to the Senate for approval, which they did this past week, and the bill went to the President for his signature.
The House and Senate then followed up with a bill to extend TAA, and attached an extension of AGOA as well. This past week, that package was also approved and sent to the President for signature. So sifting through all those acronyms, and all the political theater over the past several weeks, we are left with this reality:
(1) President Obama and his USTR have a renewed TPA;
(2) that TPA will allow USTR to move forward towards agreement in the TPP discussions;
(3) TAA and AGOA are extended for the coming years.
Who knew it could be so simple?