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Debate Intensifies on Presidential Power for Trade Negotiations

PHOTO: The battle over how best to negotiate foreign trade agreements is expected to soon heat up in Washington D.C., as the Obama administration pushes for fast-track authority on deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Photo credit: Hakan Dahlstrom/Flickr.
PHOTO: The battle over how best to negotiate foreign trade agreements is expected to soon heat up in Washington D.C., as the Obama administration pushes for fast-track authority on deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Photo credit: Hakan Dahlstrom/Flickr.
April 10, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa - A growing coalition of American food and farm groups is calling for rejection of a plan to give President Obama fast-track negotiating authority on foreign-trade agreements.

The proposal, which may be introduced as early as next week, would allow the administration to negotiate trade deals in secret and then send them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without the ability to make any amendments.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of international strategies for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said the outcomes of previous deals such as NAFTA and CAFTA have proved that this is the wrong way to go.

"While we've had tariffs go down, we've had greater protections for foreign investments," he said. "So companies have been able to shift production to wherever it's cheapest, and farmers have lost bargaining power. So we have a real loss of family farms. We have farmers unable to get fair prices for their goods."

Supporters of Trade Promotion Authority say it will give the administration the power needed to best negotiate deals with other countries, opening new export markets for U.S. farmers and companies.

However, Hansen-Kuhn said a better approach would be to make the process of negotiations on trade deals more transparent, allowing for congressional and public scrutiny.

"There's no reason they can't be publishing exactly what it is they're doing along the way," she said. "They could give Congress a role in setting the negotiating objectives. Let Congress cerfity that they've met those objectives before they complete the negotiations. Really just opening up the process, starting with transparency, would be a great start."

The debate over fast-track authority comes as the United States is in talks on two huge trade agreements that also have raised concerns among many food and farm groups, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

More information is online at iatp.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA