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Vilsack: Window for passing trade deals is closing rapidly

WASHINGTON – If Congress grants the president trade promotion authority, it will simplify the process of passing trade deals. However, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says the clock is ticking.

Since the Ford Administration, Congress has granted trade promotion authority to every president except President Obama. It lapsed under President Bush in 2007, and the issue has yet to be revisited. With TPA in place, the Office of the U.S. Trade Ambassador under the executive branch can broker trade deals, but Congress cannot amend those deals during passage.

Some like Vilsack, say the topic of trade promotion authority should be revisited, “because our negotiating partners and friends across the table know today that they can’t be assured that the agreement that [Trade Ambassador Michael] Froman can conclude, will in fact not be subject to modification or amendment by Congress.”

Vilsack told American businesses by phone Friday that he supports trade promotion authority, “which allows Congress to establish the framework for negotiations; allows Congress the opportunity of an up or down vote on any negotiated trade agreement, and obviously guarantees Congress the ability to read the negotiating text of these trade agreements as they’re being neogtiated. So, it’s transparent; it’s a proper role for Congress; but it also allows us to assure our trading partners that what we’re negotiating is in fact what will be presented, and not subject to amendment or modification.”

A lack of trade promotion authority means a significant uphill battle in securing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which promises an additional $3 billion annually in American ag exports, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Vilsack says currently, efforts to grant the president trade promotion authority are concentrated in the Senate, “where Senator Hatch and Senator Wydfen are trying to work collaboratively in a bipartisan way to come up with a trade promotion authority bill that speaks to the concerns that Senator Wyden and some of the members of the Democratic caucus have concerning trade, and the hope would be that this gets resolved between these two Senators who are on the Finance Committee quickly, so that a bill can be presented.”

Vilsack also added that the window for a finalized Trans-Pacific Partnership narrows as the end of the calendar year approaches.

“When we get into 2016,” he said, “obviously you get a lot of other extraneous issues; it’s a presidential election year.”

To hear more about trade promotion authority, click the audio player above this story.