The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 7, 2014

Our View: Fast-track trade is a win-win

Why it matters: Trade will boost exports and support more jobs in the United States

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Most businesses would avoid negotiating a deal with 535 separate people.

So it is with U.S. trading partners who would rather deal with an Obama administration trade team before dealing with the U.S. Congress.

But many Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, want to be intimately involved in a U.S. trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim nations and another agreement with the European Union.

The Trans Pacific Partnership deal would be between the U.S. and places like Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam but it also major U.S. trading partners such as Australia, Mexico, Canada and Singapore.

The deal is part of Obama’s push to counterbalance the influence of China in the Pacific Rim with a basic free trade model.

Liberal Democrats and some Tea Party Republicans are at odds with Obama and more moderate Democrats and Republicans who would like to get approval for so called “fast-track” trade authority that allows the administration to negotiate trade deals and have Congress approve the deals in an up or down vote, without amendments.

Mostly Democrats in Congress want the authority to manage and vote on particular aspects of the deals. Such political meddling in what should be a business transaction hasn’t been the best way to do business. History shows fast-track authority can work. In fact, going back to the 1990s presidents have been given the fast-track trade authority. Bill Clinton had it as did George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. But the last trade authority expired in 2007.

Now, we appear to be debating an issue where there is no problem.

Democrats in Congress backed by the support of unions claim the trade deals will further pull American jobs abroad. They say foreign companies may gain an advantage over U.S. companies with cheap labor and lax environmental regulations.

But you don’t hear many businesses making those arguments. Most understand the realities of the global market place. They know that if we don’t negotiate deals with huge trading partners like those countries in the Pacific Rim, some other country will. We’ll lose the business anyway.

Businesses know we can shape and negotiate trade deals to play to our competitive advantages. We can negotiate lower tariffs and remove import barriers for high-value U.S. manufactured goods that are made by highly-skilled, well paid U.S. workers. An expanding export market will add jobs in the U.S.

Businesses concede that we could indeed lose some of our low-paying jobs as labor will always be cheaper somewhere else. But they see a tradeoff with increased exports and a net job gain. That makes the most sense.

Beyond believing Congress can negotiate better deals than a U.S. trade delegation, members opposing fast track say it removes the constitutional authority of Congress to conduct trade. They may have that authority, but they can also grant the president authority over the details while still approving overall deals, a power that would remain with Congress under the fast-track bill.

Proponents of fast-track argue convincingly that our trading partners will be reluctant to enter into trade deals if they know they may be picked apart piecemeal by 535 members of Congress who are beholden to protecting this U.S. factory or that in their home districts.

There will be a reluctance by our trading partners to negotiate with the U.S. and that may lead these growing world economies to find partners in Europe or South America.

U.S. agricultural products would benefit from fast-track trade deals. U.S. farmers can still grow soybeans and corn more efficiently than most other countries. Agriculture has long benefitted from trade deals. Agriculture exports grew by double digit percentages to Canada and Mexico as the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented in the 1990s.

Those in Congress who would oppose fast-track trade authority should realize they cannot change the labor market or environment in a foreign country from the far end of Pennsylvania Avenue. But they can get out of the way when business wants to enter mutually beneficial deals that spur economic growth.