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What the fast-track trade bill actually says

Editor’s Note: As the trade debate rages in Congress, we wanted to understand the actual legislation now on the Senate floor. Political Director Lisa Desjardins read through the bill, which would give the president “fast-track” trade authority. This is the legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee and now tee’d up for a potential vote in the Senate.

S. 995Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015

Length: 117 pages

Why it matters: The bill would give this White House, and potentially the next White House, increased power to negotiate and commit the United States to trade deals. That prominently includes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential economic partnership the U.S. is negotiating now.

Issues it touches: Jobs, wages, manufacturing, agriculture, environment. And that is just an initial list. It arguably could touch on nearly every global issue at play currently.

Key sections: There are two.

Section 3. Trade Agreements Authority: This is the section that gives the president a kind of fast-track trade power. It allows him to bring a trade agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote that Congress could not amend. That is a significant advantage to presidents who would then be able to tell trading partners that Congress cannot vote to change the deal (only approve or disapprove).

It gives that power through July 1, 2018. That could be extended through July 1, 2021 if the president submits a written request (and report). A vote of disapproval from either the House or Senate would block the extension.

Section 6. Implementation of Trade Agreements: This sets out the timeline for the president and Congress when reviewing a trade deal. It states that the president must give 90-days notice before entering into a trade deal. Then at least 60 days before signing, the President must publish the text of the proposed agreement on a publicly-available website. And finally, this section requires the president to post a final copy of the agreement 30 days before entering into it.

What else is in the bill: For those of you looking for a deeper dive, here is how the bill is organized and what else it contains.

  • Overall trade objectives: The bill names 13 objectives for trade negotiations for the United States, including: increase access and decrease trade barriers for the U.S., promote worker and children’s rights and ensure equal access for small business.
  • Specific trade objectives: From there the bill then sets out specific objectives for 18 different facets of trade negotiations, from agriculture and textiles to intellectual property and digital technology.
  • Fast-track power: Next comes the key section, the “Trade Agreements Authority,” which gives the president his fast-track powers. See “Key Section” above for more on this.
  • U.S. Trade Representative rules: After this, the bill sets up a number of requirements for the U.S. trade representative, including guidelines for how the trade rep. should work with Congress, Congressional advisory commissions and how information should be divulged to the U.S. public. Among those requirements: the U.S. Trade Representative must publicly list the objectives of any potential agreement at least 30 days before starting negotiations.
  • New office: The bill establishes a “Chief Transparency Officer”, who would work for the U.S Trade Rep. and “shall consult with Congress on transparency policy, coordinate transparency in trade negotiations, engage and assist the public, and advise the United States Trade Representative on transparency policy.”

Report count: 13
I like to keep track of how many reports a single bill creates or requires. In this case it is 13, but that is if you count a few sets of guidelines that the U.S. Trade Rep. must draft as part of this law and a report required of the President if the administration wants to extend fast-track authority through 2021. The other reports required include those from various advisory committees and commissions as well as assessments of the economic, environmental and labor impact of any deal and the effects of trade penalties and current enforcement mechanisms.

Some fine print: A few things I noticed that were interesting.

  • Border Security — Section 5. “Notice, Consultations and Reports” includes a subsection requiring a list of how any trade deal would affect border security needs and agency staffing for number of agencies.
  • Labor and Environment caveats — Section 2. “Trade Objectives” includes a subsection, “Labor and the Environment”, which states that countries in the trade deal have the right to “a reasonable exercise of discretion” in how they apply environmental and labor laws.
  • Currency manipulation — Just below the “Labor and Environment” subsection, a provision on “Currency” states that the U.S. objective is that other countries involved in trade deals “avoid manipulating exchange rates.” That loose language is a significant source of concern from those who want tougher teeth on currency manipulation practices.

WTO — The next sub-section down after “Currency Manipulation”, entitled “WTO”, recognizes that the World Trade Organization is the “foundation of the global trading system”. That is not controversial per se, but is a nice example of how these bills are written so that many interests (including those who support the WTO) try to get as much footing, even if it’s rhetorical and only tangentially related, as possible.

Bonus: Acronym glossary

For those interested in the “T”-acronym littered trade debate.

TAA – Trade Adjustment Assistance. Government-funded help for American workers displaced by international trade.
TPA – Trade Promotion Authority. The formal name for fast-track trade power for the president.
TPP – Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is a specific trade deal involving the U.S. and 10 other nations which is under negotiation now.
TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Next trade deal in line after TPP, it is a proposed agreement between the U.S. and the European Union.
ISDS – Investor-State Dispute Settlement. This term refers to mechanisms used for investors to settle lawsuits with foreign governments. The exact rules, especially including who decides the final outcome, can be the source of much debate.

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