Much of the commentary about Congress passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) has focused on it as a victory for President Obama and for the congressional leadership that helped get it across the finish line.
That’s a narrow way to look at it.
Don’t get me wrong. President Obama expended valuable political capital to get the measure passed, and he deserves tremendous credit. Ditto for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, without whom TPA would have failed.
But the real victory is for American consumers and for the global economy.
TPA passage sets the stage for far-reaching international trade agreements that will benefit American producers while enhancing America’s economic and national security for years to come.
What this week’s vote does specifically is make it more likely to get congressional approval of free trade deals negotiated by whoever happens to occupy the White House. As The Wall Street Journal put it, “The victory means the U.S. can again begin to reassert trade leadership after a decade on the sidelines.”
The bipartisan support in favor of trade is worthy of celebration. The bill could not have passed without members of both parties pledging support.
I specifically want to highlight the leadership shown by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
We have had our differences with Sen. Wyden on some aspects of trade economics, as Perspectives readers know. But we share with the senator the fundamental understanding that, by and large, increased trade is beneficial for the country.
Despite this week’s achievement, the opposition to TPA makes clear that passage of future trade agreements – such as the TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – will not come easy. Trade supporters will have to work just as hard as they did for TPA to ensure that meaningful and beneficial trade agreements receive congressional endorsement.
There’s a lot riding on it. Our slow-growth economy still suffers from the ravages of the financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession. Increased trade offers one of the best long-term antidotes to economic torpor.
Our experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement bears that out. Two decades after NAFTA, we can see that all three major trading partners continue to benefit. Meanwhile, the fears we heard so much about – remember Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound”? – have not materialized.
We should pursue trade deals with other nations because trade, by its very definition, leads to economic growth, opportunity, and mutual benefit for those involved. It is nice to see Washington reaffirm that point this week.