Lawmakers Eager to Get Secretive Trade Agreement Moving

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to reignite momentum on a trade deal with several Pacific Rim nations after it faced major hurdles earlier this year.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) involves 12 countries ranging from Chile to New Zealand and Malaysia. The TPP would link an area with about $28 trillion in annual economic output, making it the largest trade agreement ever signed by the United States.

The agreement hit a major roadblock in Congress last month when a large bipartisan group in Congress expressed concerns over the negotiating process.

The Friends of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Caucus, officially launched in October, represents a counter-attack to the growing tide of anti-TPP sentiment. The four co-chairs of the caucus include two Democrats and two Republicans: Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Charles W. Boustany (R-La.), and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

Two of the co-chairs, Boustany and Reichert, talked this month about the trade agreement at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Both expressed their belief that the TPP would be good for their constituents and for the nation in general.

Boustany and Reichert also seemed optimistic about the chances of getting Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would allow the Obama administration to negotiate the TPP without worrying about Congress making any changes.

Fast-track legislation – also known as Trade Promotion Authority  – is the process by which Congress allows the president to negotiate trade deals and pledges to approve them swiftly without amendments or delays. This empowers the executive branch to negotiate trade agreements with foreign partners without them worrying the deal will be undermined or renegotiated by congressional pressure.

Free trade agreements are notoriously difficult to get through Congress. For example, the U.S. and South Korea signed a trade agreement in 2007. But after a series of revisions to make the agreement more palatable, the deal did not come into effect until March 2012.

President Obama is seeking TPA, which officially ended in 2007, to promote the TPP and another trade agreement currently in the early stages of negotiations with the European Union.

Reichert, a former SWAT team commander, said supporters of the TPP will have to be more assertive to get the deal through Congress.

“You got to know when to negotiate and when to kick the door in,” he said. “And you know, when it comes to trade, we might have to kick the door in somewhere along the line here.”

The TPP has faced criticism due to its secretive process. The draft texts of the treaty are not publicly available, and even members of Congress do not have access to all documents.

Many industry advisers, however, have access to the drafts. These advisers represent several business sectors, such as the pharmaceutical industry groups, the record industry, and firms like Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, and General Electric.