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The fast track negotiating authority (also called trade promotion authority or TPA, since 2002) for trade agreements is the authority of the President of the United States to negotiate international agreements that the Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster. Fast-track negotiating authority is granted to the President by Congress. It was in effect pursuant to the Trade Act of 1974 from 1975 to 1994 and was restored in 2002 by the Trade Act of 2002. It expired for new agreements at midnight on July 1, 2007, but continued to apply to agreements already under negotiation until they were eventually passed into law.
Congress created the fast track authority in the Trade Act of 1974, § 151-154 (19 U.S.C. § 2191-2194). The fast track authority created under the Act was set to expire in 1980 but was extended for 8 years in a 1979 act and was renewed again in 1988 until 1993 to accommodate negotiation of the Uruguay Round conducted within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and was again extended to 16 April 1994, a day after the Uruguay Round concluded in the Marrakech Agreement transforming the GATT into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Pursuant to that grant of authority, Congress then enacted implementing legislation for the United States-Israel Free Trade Area, the United States-Canada Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA). Fast track languished during the late 1990s because of the opposition of House Republicans.
Presidential candidate George W. Bush made fast track part of his campaign platform in 2000. In May 2001, as president he made a speech about the importance of free trade at the annual Council of the Americas in New York, founded by David Rockefeller and other senior U.S. businessmen in 1965. Subsequently, the Council played a role in the implementation and securing of TPA through Congress.
At 3:30 a.m. on July 27, 2002, the House passed the Trade Act of 2002 narrowly by a 215 to 212 vote with 190 Republicans and 27 Democrats making up the majority. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 64 to 34 on August 1, 2002. The Trade Act of 2002, § 2103-2105 (19 U.S.C. § 3803-3805), extended and conditioned the application of the original procedures.
Under the second period of fast-track authority, Congress enacted implementing legislation for the United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement, the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, the United States-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the United States-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement, the United States-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, the United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement, and the Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. The authority expired on July 1, 2007, without being renewed by Congress.
In October 2011, Congress and the President Obama enacted into law the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, the South Korea – United States Free Trade Agreement, and the Panama – United States Trade Promotion Agreement using fast track rules, all of which the George W. Bush administration signed before the deadline.
In early 2012, the Obama administration indicated that renewal of the authority is a requirement for the conclusion of Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) negotiations, which have been undertaken as if the authority were still in effect. In July 2013, Michael Froman, the newly confirmed U.S. Trade Representative, renewed efforts to obtain Congressional reinstatement of "fast track" authority. At nearly the same time, Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned Froman about the prospect of a secretly-negotiated, binding international agreement such as TPP that might turn out to supersede U.S. wage, safety, and environmental laws. Other legislators expressed concerns about foreign currency manipulation, food safety laws, state-owned businesses, market access for small businesses, access to pharmaceutical products, and online commerce.
In early 2014, Senator Max Baucus and Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, which, if enacted into law, would reauthorize trade promotion authority and establish a number of priorities and requirements for trade agreements. Its sponsors called it a "vital tool" in connection with negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade negotiations with the EU. Critics said the bill could detract from "transparency and accountability". Sander Levin, who is the ranking Democratic member on the House Ways and Means committee, said he would make an alternative proposal.
If the President transmits a fast track trade agreement to Congress, then the majority leaders of the House and Senate or their designees must introduce the implementing bill submitted by the President on the first day on which their House is in session. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(c)(1).) Senators and Representatives may not amend the President’s bill, either in committee or in the Senate or House. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(d).) The committees to which the bill has been referred have 45 days after its introduction to report the bill, or be automatically discharged, and each House must vote within 15 days after the bill is reported or discharged. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(e)(1).)
In the likely case that the bill is a revenue bill (as tariffs are revenues), the bill must originate in the House (see U.S. Const., art I, sec. 7), and after the Senate received the House-passed bill, the Finance Committee would have another 15 days to report the bill or be discharged, and then the Senate would have another 15 days to pass the bill. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(e)(2).) On the House and Senate floors, each Body can debate the bill for no more than 20 hours, and thus Senators cannot filibuster the bill and it will pass with a simple majority vote. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(f)-(g).) Thus the entire Congressional consideration could take no longer than 90 days.
Fast track agreements were enacted as "congressional-executive agreements" (CEAs), which must be approved by a simple majority in both chambers of Congress.
Although Congress can't explicitly transfer its powers to the executive branch, the 1974 trade promotion authority had the effect of delegating power to the executive, minimizing consideration of the public interest, and limiting the legislature's influence over the bill to an up or down vote:
The 1979 version of the authority changed the name of the STR to the U.S. Trade Representative.
The 2002 version of the authority created an additional requirement for 90-day notice to Congress before negotiations could begin.