Good riddance? The fast lane is fading
The latest version of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the “Biparty Congressional Business Priorities and Accountability Act 2015, Colloquially known as the “fast lane,” is due to expire on July 1, 2021. The Biden administration has not made renewal a priority. Instead, the senior trade policy official of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine taiKatherine TaiThe Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Goldman Sachs – Barr ruffles feathers from book excerpt Biden attempts to undo Trump’s trade legacy with EU deal conducts a top-down review of unfinished trade negotiations initiated in the Trump administration, focusing on enforcement of labor provisions of the new NAFTA (the United States-Mexico-Canada or USMCA Agreement) and take steps to end a trade war with the European Union by negotiating a cease-fire in the 17-year dispute over subsidies for Boeing and Airbus.
The current fast-track law, which governs how trade agreements are negotiated and processed in Congress, is worse than obsolete. Its negotiating goals put U.S. trade negotiators in a straitjacket that explicitly prevents tackling climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, imposes extreme intellectual property provisions that limit access to affordable drugs and prioritize profits for large pharmaceutical companies, and create a obstacle course for a better food system. The law encourages the dilution of worker protections and environmental standards seen as “non-tariff barriers” to free trade by multinationals in processed foods, agrochemicals and industrialized meat that strongly pressured for his passage. Its consultation provisions exclude civil society and limit the information provided to members of Congress, although under the Constitution Congress has the power to regulate tariffs and trade.
The Biden administration has promised a different approach. In April 2021 wordTai said, “For too long, we have thought that trade liberalization would lead to a gradual improvement in environmental protection as countries get richer through increased trade flows. But the reality is that the system itself creates an incentive to compete by maintaining lower standards. Or worse yet, lowering those standards even further. ”
Tai’s analysis is correct. Fast-track reflects the old way of thinking – and its renewal is incompatible with the Biden administration’s ambitions for a worker-centered and environmentally friendly trade policy. As a starting point, the USTR and Congress could focus on three basic ideas:
First, democratize trade policy: USTR must reinvent the process of trade negotiation and consultation, which is shrouded in secrecy and influenced by lobbyists preferential access to negotiators. Corporate lobbyists should not have more access than civil society. The congressional consultation cannot be an afterthought when deals are made or bypassed entirely by over-reliance on executive agreements. Transparency is at the heart of a more democratic process. The USTR should publish texts and discussion papers for public analysis in a timely manner between negotiation rounds, whether for free trade agreements or in other trade related forums.
Second, prioritize well: the climate emergency, growing inequalities and fragile national and global supply chains require new solutions. While fast-track procedures included a long list of negotiating objectives, they mainly focused on expanding trade opportunities and “simplifying” regulations and standards to the lowest common denominator to facilitate trade flows. Despite all its shortcomings, we have a framework for world trade, established by bilateral agreements and the World Trade Organization (WTO). There’s no need to rush into new deals. Our priorities as a nation should guide trade policy, not the other way around.
Third, clean up the mess: While there are limits to resolving deeply flawed agreements, the United States could start with a few simple but powerful changes, even without a TPA. He could insert the Paris Agreement into the list of binding USMCA trade treaties (something Canada and the we openness expressed at). He could declare a moratorium on trade disputes involving climate commitments, starting with the challenges to renewable energy programs that generate local jobs. Congress could restore country-of-origin labeling for meat and dairy products, resolve labeling issues that led to WTO challenges, and enact implementing legislation. This is a priority for family farmers and pastoralists as a tool to unravel unfair supply chains from businesses that undermine their livelihoods. The USTR could drop its challenge to Canada’s reasonable dairy supply management program, which stabilizes prices and supplies. The list is long, but the point is to start.
The July 1 expiration of fast-track legislation is a golden opportunity for the Biden administration to negotiate well. His disappearance should not be mourned, and the USTR should ignore pressure from some members of Congress, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, and the Chamber of Commerce to renew it. To their credit, so far Tai and the Biden administration have been willing to chart a new course. Now is the time to take concrete steps to implement their vision.
Karen Hansen-Kuhn is Program Director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, where she leads work aimed at challenging free trade agreements as it relates to food and agriculture systems and advancing agroecological solutions. .
Sharon Anglin Treat is Senior Counsel at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and focuses on the intersection of international trade agreements with the environment,