Biden’s fast-track Trade Authority (TPA) is set to expire this week
President Joe Biden is about to lose one of his main tools for getting trade agreements passed in Congress, dimming the outlook for deals already in the works with the U.K. and Kenya [See trade data below this article].
That power, which was granted under the Trade Act of 1974, has typically been renewed when Biden’s predecessors wanted to pursue specific pacts.
Biden hasn’t asked for the renewal of the authority, with his administration saying that it’s reviewing progress of talks with Britain and Kenya to make sure that potential accords are consistent with his pledge to prioritize workers.
Many trade experts consider TPA, which ensures an up or down vote without amendment, a prerequisite for negotiating new deals. The theory is that other countries won’t enter into agreements with the U.S. if there’s a risk that an accord hashed out by a president will be amended significantly by lawmakers.
Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee with jurisdiction over trade matters, pressed U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on TPA in a hearing last month, repeatedly asking when the Biden administration will seek to renew it.
Tai would only say that the administration wants to win bipartisan support for renewal and wants to rethink the objectives of trade agreements before seeking the authority.
So why let it lapse? Because to a large extent this administration isn’t playing offense on trade deals.
In addition to the U.K. and Kenya negotiations, the Biden administration has shown little interest in agreements like the Environmental Goods Agreement and the Trade in Services Agreement, which could help the president advance his environmental objectives and promote America’s pandemic-stricken services sector.
Instead, the Biden administration’s trade agenda places a premium on enforcing existing trade deals, strengthening America's manufacturing supply chains, and encouraging domestic investment and innovation.
Bill Reinsch, a trade official in the Clinton administration and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, recently wrote that the Biden administration may come to regret letting TPA expire.
“As long as your policy is under review, you don’t need the authority because you’re not doing anything,” Reinsch wrote. “But as the president continues to hear from foreign leaders with trade issues, he will eventually realize the authority is a key item in his trade toolbox.”