An Intriguing Argument in Favor of Trade Promotion Authority

It is important to note that right now Congress is debating Trade Promotion Authority (TPA – otherwise known as “fast track’) and not the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. With that in mind, this article by Jerry Wyatt presents an interesting argument. He is writing in support of TPA while holding off judgement on TPP.

The case Wyatt makes for his support of TPA is that it is the same process that was used to give us the U.S. Constitution. The big argument Sen. Warren is making in her opposition (in addition to her disagreement with the Investor State Dispute Settlement provision in TPP) is that the negotiations are currently secret. Wyatt points out that this is the same process adopted by the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Each state and each region had its own interests to protect. These interests often conflicted, and negotiations became tense. Some delegates walked out. But negotiations went on…

We all know now that the Constitutional Convention was successful. But at the time, it was a long shot. The only way to discuss all options and successfully deal with conflicting interests was to keep all negotiations a secret. Every piece of the puzzle had to be considered in the context of the entire package. There simply was no way for the Convention to end successfully unless each conflicting interest was taken into account. The written Constitution emerging from the Convention had to balance all of these interests. Once that was done, then any subsequent amendments on behalf of any of these interests would undermine the entire negotiated outcome.

The process simply had to be done in secret. The Constitution had to be presented for ratification in its final form, with no subsequent amendments possible. If it had been anything less, we would not have had a United States Constitution.

Wyatt then makes the case for why the same kind of process is necessary for negotiations on TPP.

President Obama wants fast track authorization in order to proceed with the negotiations from a position of power – in order to receive the best possible set of concessions from nations with interests which conflict with our interests. The only way to know if he succeeds or not is to look at the final negotiated deal – and then judge it on its entire impact – not on some leaked, out-of-context pieces of the puzzle. After a final deal is reached, there will be an opportunity for public debate. Fast track authority doesn’t mean that Congress is going to support whatever deal is reached. It just means that politics won’t undermine a deal before it can be reached.

Anyone who has ever been involved in complex negotiations of any kind with multiple parties will understand what Wyatt is talking about. So while I’m sure critics can point to the many ways his analogy doesn’t hold up because a constitutional convention is different than multi-lateral trade negotiations – the basic principles he identifies are important to recognize.

Finally, when it comes to TPP itself, I am in total agreement with what Wyatt wrote.

I haven’t made up my mind whether to support TPP or not. I will decide when an agreement is finalized and not before. I tend to distrust deals which are based on some concept of “free trade” which I know only exists in theory. But I won’t make up my mind on any specific trade deal until I see the details – the final details, not a few leaked pieces of information. I will still have time to voice my concerns before Congress decides whether to ratify it or not.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.