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April 16, 2007 - Time again for “fast-track”

In addition to writing a new farm bill and immigration reform act, Congress faces another legislative deadline this year. Fast track, or Trade Promotion Authority, expires on June 30th and without that authority, the White House (regardless of which party occupies it) is virtually powerless in any trade negotiations taking place.

A quick review of Trade Promotion Authority...it gives our trade officials the ability to negotiate an agreement with a country or a bloc of countries and then bring it to Congress for a yes-or-no vote within 90 days. There would be no opportunity to add, delete or alter any part of the agreement, simply vote it up or down in its entirety. Without that Authority, other countries say it would be useless to spend months putting language in place with the U.S. that Congress could pick apart line-by-line before a final vote.

Now the question is...will a Democratic Congress be able or willing to work on this legislation before June 30th? That’s not an easy question to answer in light of last week’s statement by Senator Max Baucus, who is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Montana Democrat said he saw no need yet to renew the Authority, noting that pending agreements with Columbia, Peru, Panama and South Korea will be covered by the current TPA, even if they are not submitted to Congress before June 30th. He stated in a Washington speech, “If there is not a new pending agreement, whether it’s multilateral or bilateral, then there’s not going to be a need for a TPA.”

The confusion here comes from an apparent change of mind on the part of the Senator who in a Wall Street Journal article in January dismissed suggestions that the new Democratic majority would be bad for U.S. trade policy and laid out his agenda. He said, “Congress should begin by renewing the administration’s fast-track negotiating authority for trade agreements. The current grant expires in June, and trading partners will not negotiate trade agreements with us unless Congress gives the President the authority to bring these agreements to fruition.”

So, which statement do we believe...January or April and why, I wonder, did Senator Baucus change his mind? Whatever the reason, I hope the leadership in Congress goes back to his January belief that we do need Trade Promotion Authority, because we certainly do, and this is not a matter of politics. Whether a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House, the President needs the authority and it is critical to America’s farmers and ranchers if we are going to maintain a trade surplus in agricultural exports. Urge your representatives in Congress to put “fast-track” on the fast-track agenda.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.