The Trouble with Fast-Track Authority

Dissenting from the program


Elsewhere on the site today, you'll find a feature called "10 Things the New GOP Congress Should—and Can!—Do." There's a bunch of good ideas in there, but I'm going to have to dissent from the first item on the list:

Restore "fast track" trade promotion authority:…Fast-track trade authority would grant the president power to make trade deals, which Congress can then vote up or down without amendments or filibuster.

The last such authorization expired when the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007, leaving the president less able to negotiate reductions in trade barriers, complete the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks, finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and move forward with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Fast-track authority does make it easier to pass a trade pact without amendment. But if the final Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) looks like the drafts that have leaked, then I don't want it to pass without amendment.

"Free trade" agreements frequently include details that don't have anything to do with freeing trade. When intellectual property enters the picture, the rules typically make trade more rather than less restrictive. That certainly seems to be the case with the TPP: Provisions in the leaked drafts would extend copyright terms, impose DMCA-style restrictions on circumventing copy protection, and otherwise take a maximalist approach to intellectual property. There are efforts to add tighter IP regulations to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership too.

I already tend to be skeptical about trade agreements as a path to freer trade, but I recognize and respect the argument that they do more good than harm. That argument is much harder to maintain, though, when the deals are loaded down with provisions like these. If fast-track authority makes such rules easier to pass, then fast-track authority is something I'm happy to do without.