Tuesday, March 13, 2007

End Presidential "Fast Track" Authority for Trade Agreements

"Fast track" is a negotiating authority that has been granted by Congress since 1974 which allows the President to negotiate international trade agreements. Under these procedures, the President submits the legislation to Congress for a straight up or down vote. No amendments are allowed and Congress has ninety legislative days to approve or reject. This presidential authority is scheduled to expire in June. Congress should let it.

"Fast track" authority has allowed Presidents to circumvent congressional efforts to push U.S. trading partners to strengthen the regulation and enforcement of environmental standards and workers’ rights (such as the international labor standards created by the UN's International Labor Organization) as part of any new trade agreement. Many Democrats who voted for NAFTA said they anticipated being able to vote on such measures, but as we see, those issues never get brought up again after these trade deals are passed. And as Nat-Wu has detailed on previous and more eloquent blogs, the U.S. shouldn't be trading with countries that doesn't adhere to basic livable wage and sanitation standards for their workers, or commit other egregious human rights violations against them, or adhere to simarly basic environmental protections.

Now this is not about "protectionism." I disagree with those on the left who think we should repeal NAFTA and remove ourselves from the WTO (both of which are completely impractical), and I agree with liberal economists like Paul Krugman who believe that trade can be a source of a lot of good for the U.S. and other countries. We just shouldn't be trade partners with those governments who don't demand the same standards we do. Doing so both betrays our principles and hurts our economy because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage with nations whose businesses are less regulated, which, in turn, leads to the outsourcing of jobs.

On that more controversial topic, I think we should address it not by seeking to limit trade, but by penalizing U.S. companies that ship their jobs overseas so that it's not worth it for them. They shouldn't be able to keep getting tax breaks and corporate welfare subsidies when they are skyrocketing our unemployment rate. I've also heard that Democrats are planning on expanding assistance programs for those Americans who have lost their jobs due to outsourcing (federal assistance programs for these dislodged workers provide a share of health insurance costs and subsidize job retraining). These policies, and ending "fast track," would move us in the right direction towards fair trade.

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