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Here we go again.
After taking a back seat to many other issues, trade appears to be returning to the fore in the nation's capital. Accompanying it, unfortunately, are the same arguments heard time and again on this topic.
The driving force this time is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement involving a dozen nations including Canada, Japan, Mexico, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. Nearly 20 rounds of negotiations have been held, and the participants reportedly hope to wrap up an agreement by the end of the year.
TPP's fate likely depends on TPA-or trade promotion authority. Known for years as fast-track negotiating authority, this was created in the mid-1970s and lasted until 1994; it was renewed again-as TPA-in 2002, but expired on July 1, 2007.
This authority allowed the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress could approve or vote down-but not amend. This is crucial, because negotiating partners want to know that the president can deliver on a final agreement.
When Congress allowed fast-track authority to lapse in the mid-1990s, this did not slow the advance of free trade; indeed, more than 130 agreements were signed from 1994 to 2001. But the United States was a bystander in all but a couple of them.
The importance of U.S. participation in the TPP should be clear. The countries negotiating this pact represent a combined gross domestic product of $27.5 trillion.
Some people oppose renewal of fast track because they don't like what they have heard about the TPP provisions. The Obama administration has not helped its cause by keeping many details under wraps.
But remember: Fast track does not give the president absolute power. Lawmakers can vote against any final pact they oppose.
For communities such as Rochester, trade is a vital part of the local economy. Each year, more than $5 billion worth of products made here are sold abroad. Sitting on the sidelines would not be in our economic interest.
A final Trans-Pacific Partnership accord can and should be debated by lawmakers. But let's give the president the authority needed to wrap up the agreement.
11/15/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.