The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thursday urged President Barack Obama to become more aggressive in expanding global trade this year, and called on him to take the first steps toward re-enacting fast-track trade authority legislation.
The business lobby unveiled an eight-point list of international trade and investment priorities, with renewal of trade promotion authority — or fast-track authority — as its first goal. In a sign of how difficult passing such legislation will be, Chamber officials told reporters that simply talking to lawmakers about the subject would be an important move.
"What we want is a conversation with the Congress and the president. We want to encourage them to have a conversation about what the right process is and how to move this forward," said Myron Brilliant, the chamber’s senior vice president for international affairs. "I think it’s not too early to begin to have those private conversations. Clearly, it’s a priority for us in the business community."
The administration is working to conclude negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement by October, and the business group doesn’t want the administration to wait until the deal is completed before advancing fast-track legislation.
"It’s a challenging timeline, but the timeline doesn’t get any easier by waiting," said John Murphy, the chamber’s vice president for international affairs.
Brilliant declined to predict if Congress would pass a bill by the end of this year. Murphy noted that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., have made favorable comments recently about renewing trade promotion authority, which lapsed in 2007.
Fast-track allows for expedited congressional consideration of trade deals, and is generally considered necessary for Congress to pass an agreement. Under fast-track rules, a trade deal must receive an up-or-down vote in both chambers, without amendment, within 90 days of being submitted by the White House. No trade agreement submitted under those procedures has ever been rejected by Congress.
Obama has yet to request fast-track authority — to GOP jeers — in part to avoid inflaming his political base of organized labor, which has historically been suspicious of trade agreements. In his first term, Obama shepherded trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to passage, but those agreements had been negotiated by President George W. Bush’s administration. Obama has not completed any new trade pacts yet.
Brilliant suggested Obama may feel "liberated" to pursue a more ambitious trade agenda since he will not have to face voters again and can focus on crafting his legacy.
The Pacific Rim agreement, being negotiated with 10 other countries, is the administration’s top trade priority and is also on the Chamber’s list of goals for the second term. Both view the deal as an opportunity to establish a high-standard, 21st-century trade agreement for the fast-changing global economy.
The chamber also wants the administration to launch negotiations for a comprehensive transatlantic trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, which is expected in the coming months.
The Chamber hopes the administration can reach agreement with a group of dozens of World Trade Organization partners to expand trade in international services — negotiations the United States just announced it would enter.
Other Chamber priorities include negotiating bilateral investment treaties with India and China, exploring the feasibility of negotiations for other bilateral trade agreements, overhauling the government’s export controls, and implementing the administration’s executive order on international regulatory cooperation.
"It’s a busy year for us," said Brilliant. "High expectations in the business community, a very motivated business community, and we look forward to working with the administration and Congress."