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16 May 2015

It was a very interesting week on Capitol Hill in the area of trade legislation. Let me take you through it for a moment. You know I have written several times over the years about Trade Promotion Authority, also known as Fast Track Trade Authority. That is an act of Congress that is needed for our trade negotiators to complete work on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal, a twelve-nation Pacific trade agreement that President Obama would like to see completed as soon as possible, as would a lot of groups and organizations. It is particularly important to America’s farmers and ranchers.

At midweek, despite the fact that President Obama wants it, several Senate Democrats, including the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, voted against continuing debate on Fast Track Authority. This was a major road-block for President Obama and it came from his own Party. Some people said it would put an end to future consideration of the trade authority bill, but then Republicans and other Democratic leaders sat down, changed a few phrases in the legislation and by the end of the week they had agreed to continue the debate and take a vote on Fast Track Authority next week in the Senate. If it passes, it then moves to the House and ultimately the President’s desk.

I have written before about why we need Fast Track Authority. Without it, when our trade negotiators sit down with representatives from other countries and hammer out an agreement, it comes back to Congress for approval, and without FTA, members can add, delete or change the language, undoing months or years of intense work to put the agreement together. Ultimately, negotiators from other countries refuse to even sit down with U.S. negotiators, leaving us out of very important multi-national trade discussions. We become observers instead of participants.

Under Fast Track Authority, Congress still has the responsibility to approve or deny, but they can’t amend. They can’t add lines, they can’t subtract lines, they can’t change the agreement. They can only vote Yes or No, Up or Down on the negotiated trade bill that comes to their desk.

I cannot overstate the importance of trade to the U.S. economy, and especially agriculture. We must never forget that 95% of the world’s people live outside the U.S. and we need trade agreements to give us a level playing field in selling our agricultural surplus production to people who want and need it. And of, course, trade is a two-way street. I know many of you do not like agricultural imports, but as my friend, former Farm Bureau President Dean Kleckner said many times, “If it doesn’t go both ways, it’s not trade.” I hope Congress and President Obama act quickly next week.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.