TPA bill presented to Senate |

TPA bill presented to Senate

Jerry Hagstrom and TSLN edit staff
Senator Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah), pictured here in 2013, introduced a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill April 16, 2015. Courtesy photo

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., introduced a bill to provide trade promotion authority to President Barack Obama, April 16, 2015.

Hatch, and Wyden, said they are close to agreement the bill.

Hatch said he expects the markup to be next Thursday and hopes to get the bill through the Senate by the end of April.

But Wyden said that while he looks forward to discussing TPA or “fast track” next week, he expects the debate on TPA to go on for “weeks” before the full Congress considers it.

The Obama administration and Congress are under pressure to take some action before the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month.

Hatch also said at the beginning of a hearing with Cabinet officials that the committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. when it is expected that a TPA agreement between Republicans and Democrats will be ready, but hedged on whether that meeting will take place at that time today when he met reporters after the hearing.

Responding to a question from Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Wyden said the committee would not vote on the bill today.

Wyden also noted that the agreement must include not only TPA, but also a trade adjustment assistance bill.

“It may be best that they be passed as separate bills but the trains must be on parallel tracks,” he said. But he added that he wants the bills to reach President Barack Obama’s desk at the same time.

Wyden also said he wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement published “for a significant time” before Obama signs it, and he wants that publication to be “directed by law.”

He said the TPP discussions had taken place in “excessive secrecy” and that the public must be more informed about the agreement. The TPP must focus on “creating more red, white and blue jobs,” Wyden said.

Reed Kelley, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA) international trade committee chair from Meeker, Colorado, doesn’t see that happening, for cattle producers anyway.

“The 11 countries included in the proposed TPP currently have, collectively, 102 million head of cattle, greatly exceeding the 89 million head U.S. herd. The only thing keeping a lot of that supply from coming into the U.S. now is disease and parasite concern which the TPP will relax by including us into the ‘world order’ (the World Trade Organization).” The United States’ current trade deficit with these 11 countries over the past 25 years in beef, processed beef, variety meat and live cattle is $28 billion – more than $1 billion per year he said. “What will happen with markets for the U.S. cattle producer when the trade rules with these 11 countries is liberalized?”

Kelley also believes that if TPA were enacted, Congress would be passing off their explicit responsibilities. “Fortunately, it appears that a majority of Congress now understands this fact. We hope they won’t yet be swayed by multi-national corporate interests.”

Trade Representative Michael Froman, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack all told the committee that TPA is needed to finalize TPP.

Hatch told the officials that he expects the TPA to contain 150 trade negotiating goals.

Lew said the administration has been “working tirelessly” to address currency concerns outside the trade negotiations.

Hatch noted that he had introduced a bill to make currency practices part of the trade negotiating process, but the administration has opposed it.

Lew said the administration “has made substantial progress” in getting international agreements on the issue. He said Hatch’s provision had made currency manipulation a high level priority that sent a strong message to the world. But he added that the question of how that is done is sensitive because there is a fine line between legitimate macroeconomic policy and manipulation.

Vilsack said he believes U.S. negotiators have been listening closely to Congress’s concerns, especially about labor and the environment. But he added that it is difficult for negotiators from other countries to make their best offers if they believe Congress might amend it, which is possible without TPA.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) president Philip Ellis, said in a news release that past free trade agreements negotiated under TPA have showed tremendous success for U.S. beef exports. “2014 was the largest year we’ve ever seen for U.S. beef exports, with over $7 billion in total sales,” said the Chugwater, Wyoming, rancher. “It is critical for our government to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, to ensure our beef exports remain competitive across the world. TPA assures the President and Congress will negotiate present and future trade agreements with common objectives and the understanding that any agreement will receive an up or down vote when presented to Congress.”

Ellis urges Congress to quickly pass TPA, “to give our negotiators the credibility needed to move forward on pending free trade agreements.”

Wyden, who has been under pressure in Oregon not to support TPA, appeared to be supportive today. He noted that there have been reports that tariffs are no longer problem and asked Vilsack to send the numbers on agricultural exports and potential exports if tariffs are reduced to every member of the committee.

The hearing turned contentious at many points, particularly with Democratic senators expressing disappointment that USTR has made it difficult for them and their staffs to learn about TPP negotiations.

Stabenow, who wants currency manipulation addressed, said, “This whole discussion is about whether we are going to export our products or our jobs and this is a very big deal right now.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the consultations have been “pathetically inadequate.” Brown said his office had asked many questions that USTR has not answered and it is easier for his staff to see documents from the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency than USTR.

Froman said he was sorry that Brown felt the consultation had been inadequate but that USTR has had 44 meeting with Brown’s staff and seven with the senator. Wyden said he agreed with Brown’s points and that the process will be different in the future.

Hatch said, however, that “it has been a very fair process. Let’s face it. We are never going to satisfy some people who disagree.”

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