[Ip-health] Washington Post: Trade bill to open debate on globalization as Congress demands more oversight

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Jan 10 01:32:07 PST 2014


Trade bill to open debate on globalization as Congress demands more
oversightBy Howard
, Published: January 9

Lawmakers have proposed a bill that would narrow the Obama administration’s
room to negotiate new free-trade agreements, demanding that sensitive
issues such as currency ma­nipu­la­tion be covered in future treaties and
deepening congressional oversight of the process.

The legislation, introduced Tuesday by three of the top lawmakers on U.S.
trade policy, would give the administration a green light to complete new
trade pacts covering an important swath of Asia and Latin America and all
of the European Union — the most significant such agreements in a

But the bill also creates some difficult hurdles for the administration and
sets up a potentially divisive debate over economic globalization and
whether expanded trade agreements will produce more U.S. jobs or siphon
them overseas.

The measure requires that future treaties set ground rules for how
countries manage their currency values — a sensitive issue for any
sovereign state that may be difficult to build into a trade agreement with
countries as diverse as Japan and Peru. It also asks for limits on the role
of state-owned enterprises, and it would allow any member of Congress to
attend trade negotiating sessions.

The sponsors said the bill was crafted to help bring current European and
Asian trade talks closer to completion while addressing some of the
standing complaints about how trade pacts and globalization in general have
affected the U.S. economy.

The bill “will make sure that these trade deals get done, and get done
right,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who
introduced the bill along with ranking Republican Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
Identical House legislation is sponsored by Ways and Means Committee
Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.)

A brief statement from White House press secretary Jay Carney stopped short
of endorsing the specifics of the bill but said its introduction was “an
important step.”

Business groups have been urging such legislation for months and quickly
endorsed the bill, while labor, environmental and other organizations
skeptical of past trade agreements came out against it.

Significantly, Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the
House Ways and Means Committee, opposed the measure, evidence of the tough
debate that may lie ahead.

The bill establishes “fast track” procedures so that trade agreements are
subject only to a quick, up-or-down vote in Congress, with no amendments.
Previous presidents have relied on fast-track authority to complete trade
negotiations, and Obama has argued that he needs it, as well. The last such
legislation was approved in 2002 on a narrow and largely partisan vote,
something the Obama administration would prefer to avoid by convincing more
Democrats that trade can be a net positive for the U.S. economy and the
nation’s workers.

Levin, however, says the effects of globalization and past trade agreements
have been so ambiguous — and so hard on some parts of the U.S. labor force
— that Congress needs to set strict rules for any new treaties and should
be more deeply involved while negotiations are underway. He says the bill
does not go far enough in protecting the United States against unfair
currency practices or the advantages held by state-supported companies in
places such as Vietnam.

“We want expanded trade, but we want it shaped so the benefits are spread
and accrue to workers,” Levin said. Among House Democrats, he said, there
is “a strong feeling that as the pace of globalization accelerates, you
need a more active shaping of the terms of trade.”

In recent years, concerns about the use of currency as a trade weapon have
been focused on China, which maintains its renminbi at a level many
analysts feel is undervalued and which makes the country’s exports cheaper.
China is not part of the agreements under debate. But the administration
hopes that the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership in particular helps set
global standards that China might eventually feel compelled to

Other countries in the region have also been suspected of using currency
policy to achieve a trade advantage, and there has been pressure among U.S.
lawmakers to address the problem on a more systematic basis.

The new bill marks the start of a larger discussion over trade policy. The
“objectives” set out by Congress in the legislation would not be binding on
the administration. But they would set some political limits on any treaty
that the administration agrees to with its negotiating partners.

Depending on the final language of the bill, it could even strengthen the
administration’s hand in future talks — allowing negotiators to present
congressional demands on currency, for example, as make-or-break issues.

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