When we were 13 Colonies, instead of 50 States, in a document we now call the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson penned a long list of grievances against King George III, including, “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world.” Before we were a nation, we were international traders. Trade has always been a pillar of the American economy. The world keeps tariffs high on America, because they fear our workers, our products and our quality. Made in America still means something to consumers across the globe.
For the last several months, Congress has debated legislation which would require any President to follow our guidelines for international negotiations. The conversation has often been very confusing because of the acronyms and frequent ‘Washington speak’ used to explain it. Names like, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and words like tariff adjustment, countervailing duties, international dispute settlement courts, and mutual recognition agreements sound like convoluted confusion.
Let’s go back to the basics. In the United States, trade supports about one in five jobs. American manufacturers have a $55 billion trade surplus with the 20 countries with which the United States has free trade agreements. In Oklahoma, trade supports 18 percent of our jobs, which equal almost 400,000 total jobs. The value of Oklahoma’s exported goods and services equals $10.6 billion, according to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. In addition, 20 percent of all manufacturing workers in Oklahoma depend on exports for their jobs, according to the Business Roundtable. Just to name a few items, Oklahoma exports Ag products, energy equipment, coal, airline parts, artwork and overalls. Oklahoma workers win when we are allowed to trade on a level playing field with other nations.
This past Wednesday, Congress passed a piece of legislation called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or ‘fast track’ trade authority. Fast track may sound quick, but this is government fast, not real-world fast.
Over the next few months, the United States Trade Representative Michael Froman will finish negations with 11 other Pacific Rim countries (like Canada, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Vietnam) and bring the proposal back to Congress for final approval. The final approval will consume months of public debate before the American people, through Congress, agree or disagree with Ambassador Froman’s work. The stakes are high since the nations involved in Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) represent almost 40 percent of global output and 25 percent of global exports of goods and services.
Over the past two months of public debate on trade, I have heard the most remarkable rumors, let me name just a few:
— It is a secret deal that no one can read until it is passed – False: The Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) just passed through Congress but it has been online in its entirety for over three months. I even uploaded a copy of the bill to my website for everyone to read. The next trade vote in about six months will be the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but it is still in the process of being negotiated. Saying that the TPP is a secret is like saying the 2017 Federal Budget is a secret, it is actually an incomplete work in progress. By law, before Congress can vote on the TPP it has to be publicly available (online) for at least two months before the vote. I have read the negotiated working draft of the TPP, and everyone in the world can read it when it is finished, months before Congress votes on it.
— It was a closed and rushed debate – False: Congress had an open debate on numerous amendments. One of my amendments even passed which added a new requirement to include consideration of religious liberty in all future trade agreements; countries like Vietnam are serial violators of human rights and religious liberty and I believe we should use economic pressure to free prisoners of conscience.
— The TPP will take away gun rights, change immigration laws, destroy intellectual property rights and eliminate fossil fuels – False: The Trade Promotion Authority specifically forbids changing American laws, protects our sovereignty and requires other nations to respect our intellectual property rights. Besides, let me remind you that James Lankford and Jim Inhofe voted for the Trade Agreement and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi voted against it. If this deal took away gun rights, changed immigration laws, and eliminated fossil fuels, I can assure you the vote would have been the opposite.
— TPA gives more power to President Obama – False: Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) actually strengthens Congress’ role in the negotiating process by outlining priorities and requirements for the Executive Branch to adhere to as negotiating objectives. If our trade negotiators do not abide by the provisions laid out in the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, either body of Congress can rescind the expedited legislative procedures that Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) provides or just vote down the trade agreement with a simple majority. Constitutionally, every President has authority to negotiate trade policy, but TPA defines in law the Congressional requirements for the next six years for any international trade deal. President Obama will have these requirements for 18 months, the next President will have these trade requirements for more than four years.
— For those who wonder why Conservatives are voting with President Obama, look no further than the stagnant economy that this President has overseen for six years. President Obama is eager to see some positive economic growth in his tenure, after the incredible economic damage of Dodd Frank and ObamaCare. The opposition to the Trade Promotion Authority has been an interesting coalition spearheaded by Union leaders and radical environmentalists who are furious that the Trade Promotion Authority does not advance their cause internationally. Instead, this is a bill to stand up for the American worker, export our values and expand the American economy.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan said it best when he said, “An open world of enterprise and the free movement of people, goods, and ideas are not only the keys to our prosperity, but basic moral principles.” Americans have forgotten that we are the leaders of the world and world economy, it is time we start acting like it again.
This op-ed is a long version of the column that appeared in The Oklahoman newspaper on Sunday, June 28, 2015, You can read the revised shorter version for the newspaper HERE: http://newsok.com/sen.-james-lankford-tpa-is-good-for-u.s.-and-for-oklahoma/article/5430179
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, is Oklahoma’s junior U.S. senator.