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Global Scale by Coletta KemperTake the Express

Get on the trade fast track, then express your support for fast-track trade authority for the president by writing your congressman.

I'm sure you have never woken up in the middle of the night and said, "Oh my gosh, President Bush doesn’t have fast-track trade negotiating authority!" (For that matter neither have I.) But that doesn’t mean it’s not important—it’s just not a bottom-liner in the scheme of things.

Nonetheless, it is important to your business, your clients and ultimately to the U.S. and global economies. It is also critical because the world trade talks, known as the Doha Rounds, hinge on President Bush having fast-track authority. Many of our trading partners have made it clear they want the assurance that President Bush has fast-track authority before they make important concessions on market access and other trade issues. 

The Doha Rounds were suspended in July when major trading partners failed to agree on a number of issues, most notably a reduction of agriculture subsidies in exchange for more market access for agricultural products. In February, Director-General Pascal Lamy announced a political breakthrough that led the 150 World Trade Organization (WTO) partners back to the negotiating table. The dispute is far from settled, but the U.S. has indicated a willingness to reduce subsidies, while other countries agreed to grant broader market access for goods in return. The U.S. is not the only country with subsidies, but it is the largest exporter of agricultural products with a 9.7% share of the world exports in 2005. One out of three acres is planted for export. 

So, what is fast-track authority or as it’s formally called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)? Simply put, TPA allows the president to negotiate trade agreements by placing some limits on the congressional process for approving those agreements. Congress has approval authority over trade agreements, but fast-track authority limits congressional debate, calls for a timely vote and prevents amendments to the agreements. The president’s fast-track authority expires June 30.

Not so fast, congressional Democrats say. Before granting fast-track authority to the president, the Democratic-controlled Congress wants to see more benefit for American workers and businesses, including more vigorous enforcement of trade laws and agreements.

In a letter to President Bush earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and fellow House leaders pointed to the record high trade deficit, which hit $764 billion in 2006, about 6% of the U.S. GDP. They argued that the massive deficit has resulted in failed businesses, displaced workers, lower real wages and rising inequality.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., have called for legislative changes to ensure job creation under TPA and more protections for U.S. workers and business through trade enforcement, congressional consultation and labor and environmental provisions.

A few of the items on the agenda include the following:

Break down trade barriers with the country’s top three trading partners. Our trade deficits with China at $233 billion, the EU at $117 billion and Japan at $88 billion account for the majority of the total U.S. trade deficit. Democrats are asking the administration to submit a plan to reduce trade deficits with the big three by knocking down barriers and eliminating long-stranding unfair trade practices.

Stop Japan and China from manipulating their currencies, which makes American exports more expensive in the market.

Enforce intellectual property rights and attack violations by China and the EU.

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