Fast track (trade)

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The fast track negotiating authority for trade agreements is the authority of the President of the United States to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster. Also called trade promotion authority (TPA) since 2002, fast track negotiating authority is a temporary and controversial power granted to the President by Congress. The authority was in effect from 1975 to 1994, pursuant to the Trade Act of 1974, and from 2002 to 2007 by the Trade Act of 2002. Although it expired for new agreements on July 1, 2007, it continued to apply to agreements already under negotiation until they were eventually passed into law in 2011. In 2012, the Obama administration began seeking renewal of the authority.

Enactment and history[edit]

Congress started the fast track authority in the Trade Act of 1974, § 151–154 (19 U.S.C. § 2191–2194). This authority was set to expire in 1980, but was extended for eight years in 1979.[1] It was renewed in 1988 for five years to accommodate negotiation of the Uruguay Round, conducted within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).[2] It was then extended to 16 April 1994,[3][4][5] which is one 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 U.S.-Israel Free Trade Area, the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Uruguay Round Agreements Act.

In the second half of the 1990s, fast track authority languished due to opposition from House Republicans.[6]

Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush made fast track part of his campaign platform in 2000.[7] 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.[8]

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 U.S.–Chile Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.–Singapore Free Trade Agreement, the Australia–U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.–Morocco Free Trade Agreement, the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.–Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.–Oman Free Trade Agreement, and the Peru–U.S. Trade Promotion Agreement. The authority expired on July 1, 2007.[9]

In October 2011, the Congress and President Obama enacted into law the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, the South Korea–U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and the Panama–U.S. Trade Promotion Agreement using fast track rules, all of which the George W. Bush administration signed before the deadline.[10]

In early 2012, the Obama administration indicated that renewal of the authority is a requirement for the conclusion of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, which have been undertaken as if the authority were still in effect.[11] 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.[12] 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.[10]

In early 2014, Senator Max Baucus and Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014,[13] which sought to reauthorize trade promotion authority and establish a number of priorities and requirements for trade agreements.[14] Its sponsors called it a "vital tool" in connection with negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade negotiations with the EU.[13] 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.[15]


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.

Negotiating objectives[edit]

According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress categorizes trade negotiating objectives in three ways: overall objectives, principal objectives, and other priorities. The broader goals encapsulate the overall direction trade negotiations take, such as enhancing the United States' and other countries' economies. Principal objectives are detailed goals that Congress expects to be integrated into trade agreements, such as "reducing barriers and distortions to trade (e.g., goods, services, agriculture); protecting foreign investment and intellectual property rights; encouraging transparency; establishing fair regulatory practices; combating anti-corruption; ensuring that countries enforce their environmental and labor laws; providing for an effective dispute settlement process; and protecting the U.S. right to enforce its trade remedy laws". Consulting Congress is also an important objective.[16]

Principal objectives include:


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 cannot 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:[18]

The 1979 version of the authority changed the name of the STR to the U.S. Trade Representative.[18]

The 2002 version of the authority created an additional requirement for 90-day notice to Congress before negotiations could begin.[18]

Arguments in favor[edit]

Arguments against[edit]


  1. ^ Trade Agreements Act of 1979, Pub.L. 96–39, 93 Stat. 144
  2. ^ Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, Pub.L. 100–148
  3. ^ Pub.L. 103–49, enacted July 2, 1993, codified at 19 U.S.C. § 2902(e)
  4. ^ U.S. International Trade Commission (August 2003). The Impact of Trade Agreements: Effect of the Tokyo Round, U.S.-Israel FTA, U.S.-Canada FTA, NAFTA, and the Uruguay Round on the U.S. Economy. p. 3. 
  5. ^ U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means (June 2001). Overview and Compilation of U.S. Trade Statutes. p. 225. 
  6. ^ Steve Charnovitz, "Archer Slow on Fast Track," Journal of Commerce, June 4, 1997.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Council of the Americas role in securing the TPA – see David Rockefeller's Memoirs, 2002, (p.438).
  9. ^ "Bush losing trade negotiating authority; Democrats not eager to renew it". Associated Press. 2007-06-30. 
  10. ^ a b "Democrats Balk at Obama's Pacific Trade Accord Fast Track". Bloomberg. 
  11. ^ "White House wants trade promotion authority: Kirk". Reuters. Feb 29, 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  12. ^ "letter 13 June 2013 to Michael Froman". website of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. June 13, 2013. Retrieved July 20, 2013. 
  13. ^ a b "Baucus, Hatch, Camp Unveil Bill to Bring Home Job-Creating Trade Agreements". The United States Senate Committee on Finance. January 9, 2014. 
  14. ^ The staff of the Senate Finance Committee and Ways and Means Committee. "Overview of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014". Retrieved 2014-01-10. 
  15. ^ Hughes, Krista (2014-01-09), U.S. lawmakers propose fast-track bill for trade agreements, Reuters, "Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means panel, declined to join the proposal and said he was working on separate legislation. [...] Critics of the fast-track power say it erodes transparency and accountability and does not protect local workers, which unions say is of particular concern with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP." 
  16. ^ Cooper, William. "Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Role of Congress in Trade Policy". Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  17. ^ Beth, Richard; Cooper, William; Ferguson, Ian. "Trade Promotion Authority (TPA): Frequently Asked Questions". Cornell University ILR School. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  18. ^ a b c Tucker, Todd; Wallach, Lori (2009). "The Rise and Fall of Fast Track: Regime 5 – 1975–2008". Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  19. ^ Lowrey, Annie. "Obama and the G.O.P Facing Opposition to Trade Pacts". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  20. ^ Destler, I.M. "The Need for Fast Track Authority" (testimony before the subcommittee on trade committee on ways and means, USHR, 30 September 1997)". Peterson Institute for International Economics. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  21. ^ Riley, Bryan. "Trade Promotion Authority and Economic Freedom". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  22. ^ "Fast Track: An Undemocratic Path to Unfair 'Trade'". Public Citizen. 
  23. ^ Carter, Zach; McAuliff, Michael. "Why House Democrats Might Kill Obama's Big Trade Deal". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 

Further reading[edit]