Sen. McConnell Introduces “Fast Track” Trade Authority; Hits Unions for Obstructing Trade Agreements

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a gutsy statement on the Senate floor today, saying that he was introducing an amendment to give the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). This was said while the Senate was considering a bill to extend trade preferences to less developed countries and about to deal with Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation, which the administration has said is essential before three pending trade agreements are sent to the Senate.

McConnell noted that TPA, also known as “fast track” authority, gives the president the ability to negotiate trade agreements and have them considered by Congress without amendments. He said that TPA, however, expired in 2007, and the administration has made no efforts to revive it. He called out trade unions for obstructing that process:

“TPA has long had bipartisan support, and led to numerous trade agreements with 17 new countries during the Bush administration, including the three we hope to consider shortly. Unfortunately, Democrats and their union allies allowed TPA to expire in 2007.  And this President has made no effort to revive it. But without TPA, the U.S. will likely never agree to another deal again.  The unions will make sure of it. And we’ve seen what happens then.

After the North American Free Trade Agreement passed in 1993, TPA expired.  In the eight years that followed, the U.S. did nothing while other countries moved ahead, integrating themselves in the global economy. We can’t let that happen again. We can’t miss more opportunities to compete in foreign markets with U.S.-made products just because unions don’t want to.”

The three pending trade agreements, with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, were signed before TPA expired and thus come under that authority. However, without TPA, new trade agreements would be open to debate and amendments, which would undermine the whole negotiation process, that is, during negotiations, countries would not know whether the final U.S. text would follow agreements reached. Although trade unions have insisted on including ever more restrictive worker protections in the pending trade pacts, particularly for Colombia, the TPA included environmental and labor provisions as negotiating objectives.

McConnell, in his statement, noted that the administration may not want to push for TPA because then they would “own” new trade agreements and might be open to their allies’ criticism (read unions’) that they were moving too aggressively on trade:

“So, in my view, if the White House won’t show leadership on this issue, if they’re too worried about owning other free trade agreements or as being seen by some of their allies as promoting them too aggressively, it is my view that we ought to help them get there.

“And that’s why I’m offering this amendment today: to show the world that some in Congress are ready to move forward and lower the barriers that keep American goods out of foreign countries and which deny American consumers all the benefits that come from our integration into the world economy.

“With 14 million Americans out of work and thousands of Americans looking for opportunities to sell American-made goods around the world, we can’t afford to wait like we did on these three FTAs while the administration makes up its mind that American jobs are more important than appeasing their union allies.”