Sen. Jeff Sessions’ top concerns regarding Trade Promotion Authority

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jeff sessionsWASHINGTON – On Monday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., issued a critical alert outlining his top five concerns with the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that appears to be speeding through Congress as a fast-track procedure through which Congress would yield its legislative authority and allow the executive branch to implement one of the largest global financial agreements in our history.

According to Sessions, the TPA, which would expedite the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement comprising at least 12 nations and nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP, eliminates Congress’ ability to amend or debate trade implementing legislation and guarantees an up-or-down vote on a far-reaching international agreement before that agreement has received any public review.

If the TPA should pass, Congress will be giving up not only the 67-vote threshold for a treaty and the 60-vote threshold for important legislation, but will be giving up the opportunity for amendment and committee review process that ensures member participation.

What Sessions considers crucial is that this would not just apply to the TPP but to all international trade agreements throughout the six-year life of the TPA.

If Congress doesn’t take affirmative action to refuse to reauthorize the TPA at the end of the defined authorization period (2018), the TPA is set up to automatically reauthorize for an additional three years as long as the president requests the extension.

The TPA also makes it exceptionally difficult for lawmakers to seek legislative redress of trade deals or remove it from the fast track.

And, while the president is required to submit a report to Congress on the terms of a trade agreement at least 60 days before submitting legislation for its implementation, the president can classify or redact information from the report, limiting its usefulness to Congress.

Sessions asked whether the TPA is designed to protect congressional responsibilities or if its intent is to limit Congress’ ability to do its duty.

Sessions’ second concern revolved around increased trade deficits and said labor economist Clyde Prestowitz attributes 60 percent of the United States’ 5.7 million manufacturing jobs lost over the last decade to import-driven trade imbalances.

Sessions also quoted a former chief executive officer at AT&T from a recent Reuters column, who stated, “[S]ince the [NAFTA and South Korean free trade] pacts were implemented, U.S. trade deficits, which drag down economic growth, have soared more than 430 percent with our free-trade partners. In the same period, they’ve declined 11 percent with countries that are not free-trade partners … Obama’s 2011 trade deal with South Korea, which serves as the template for the new TPP, has resulted in a 50 percent jump in the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea in its first two years. This equates to 50,000 U.S. jobs lost.”

Sessions stated job loss by U.S. workers means reduced consumer demand, less tax revenue flowing into the treasury and greater reliance on government assistance programs.

He continued, “Furthermore, the lack of protections in TPA against foreign subsidies could accelerate our shrinking domestic manufacturing base. We have been getting out-negotiated by our mercantilist trading partners for years, failing to aggressively advance legitimate U.S. interests, but the proponents of TPA have apparently not sought to rectify this problem.”

Sessions insists TPA proponents need to answer the simple question as to whether their plan will shrink the trade deficit or make it grow larger.

With grave concerns over ceding sovereign authority to international powers, Sessions notes in the “Key Features” summary, the TPP is a “living agreement,” which means the president could update the agreement “as appropriate to address trade issues that emerge in the future as well as new issues that arise with the expansion of the agreement to include new countries.”

The “living agreement” provision means participating nations could not only add countries to the TPP without congressional approval but could change any of the terms of the agreement, including controversial terms as they relate to the entry of foreign workers and foreign employees.

Sessions emphasized the fact that such changes would not be subject to congressional approval.

He said, “Promoters of TPA should explain why the American people ought to trust the administration and its foreign partners to revise or rewrite international agreements, or add new members to those agreements, without congressional approval,” and asked, “Does this not represent an abdication of congressional authority?”

Sessions went on to highlight the “biggest open secret” in the international market involves currency manipulation, whereas other countries are devaluing their currencies to artificially lower the price of their exports while artificially raising the price of U.S. exports to them.

He said the end result has been a “massive bleeding of domestic manufacturing wealth.”

The final point Sessions makes in his critical alert memorandum is the numerous ways the TPA could facilitate immigration increases above current law “and precious few ways anyone in Congress could stop its happening.”

Quoting from a section of the TPA, Sessions wrote, “The principal negotiating objective of the United States regarding trade in services is to expand competitive market opportunities for United States services and to obtain fairer and more open conditions of trade, including through utilization of global value chains, by reducing or eliminating barriers to international trade in services … Recognizing that expansion of trade in services generates benefits for all sectors of the economy and facilitates trade.”

Sessions said that language, as well as other language in the TPA, “offers an obvious way for the administration to expand the number and duration of foreign worker entries under the concept that the movement of foreign workers into U.S. jobs constitutes ‘trade in services.’”

For those who claim the TPP contains no change to immigration law, Sessions called that a semantic rather than a factual argument and said, “Language already present in both TPA and TPP provide the basis for admitting more foreign workers, and for longer periods of time, and language could later be added to TPP or any future trade deal to further increase such admissions.”

Sessions stated, “The president has already subjected American workers to profound wage loss through executive-ordered foreign worker increases on top of existing record immigration levels. Yet, despite these extraordinary actions, the administration will casually assert that is has merely modernized, clarified, improved, streamlined, and updated immigration rules.”

In conclusion, Sessions wrote, “Our government must defend the legitimate interests of American workers and American manufacturing on the world stage. The time when this nation can suffer the loss of a single job as a result of a poor trade agreement is over.

“The American people want us to slow down a bit. The rapid pace of immigration and globalization has placed enormous pressures on working Americans. Lower-cost labor and lower-cost goods from countries with less per-person wealth have rushed into our marketplace, lowering American wages and employment. The public has grown increasingly skeptical of these elaborate proposals, stitched together in secret, and rushed to passage on the solemn promises of their promoters. Too often, these schemes collapse under their own weight. Our job is to raise our own standard of living here in America, not to lower our standard of living to achieve greater parity with the rest of the world. If we want an international trade deal that advances the interests of our own people, then perhaps we don’t need a ‘fast-track’ but a regular track: where the President sends us any proposal he deems worthy and we review it on its own merits.”

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