The U.S. House has indicated that it’s likely to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority, and that’s good for Texas.
Also known as “fast-track” trade authority, TPA makes it easier for the president to negotiate trade deals with other countries by ensuring Congress gives them up-or-down votes rather than adding amendments that would necessitate endless rounds of renegotiation.
First enacted 41 years ago, TPA has helped presidents from across the political spectrum remove barriers to trade between the United States and other countries. TPA has been used to negotiate trade agreements with countries ranging from Israel and Canada to South Korea and Chile.
This has paid off in the form of more jobs and greater access to goods and services for American consumers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that one out of every five jobs in America today is supported by trade.
Texas, in particular, has benefited from increased trade.
Texas exported $289 billion worth of merchandise in 2014, with $115 billion from the Houston metro area alone. Whether it’s gasoline or electronics, Texas has a vibrant manufacturing base that benefits and will continue to benefit from increased trade.
Recent expansions of the Panama Canal will only heighten the importance of trade to the Texas economy.
The White House enjoyed fast-track authority from 1974 to 1994 and again for five years starting in 2002. Although a Democratic Congress allowed the authority to fast-track new deals to expire in 2007, the president continued to enjoy TPA for deals already in the works until 2011.
Unless TPA is reauthorized, Texas stands to lose out on many of these opportunities.
Senators like Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have shown an increased willingness to try to kill or delay trade agreements by any means necessary.
This won’t end trade between nations, but it could well redirect it away from the United States and toward countries that are more willing to welcome international commerce.
In an increasingly competitive global market, the United States can’t afford to simply take its mat and go home.
Some have sought to derail support for TPA in red states like Texas by linking it to President Barack Obama. But free trade is a bipartisan affair that, if anything, traditionally enjoyed more support from conservatives than from liberals.
Given less than two years remaining in Obama’s term, the main use of TPA going forward will likely be by future (quite possibly Republican) presidents. Killing TPA now could mean a lost decade in terms of future trade agreements.
In a world of increased political polarization, trade remains one issue that hasn’t yet become simply a matter of partisanship.
Josiah Neeley of Austin is Texas state director and senior fellow of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank.