My colleague Phil English explained TPA and TPP today on today’s show, as Hillary Clinton continues her astonishing silence on this crucial part of the president’s agenda –the only part that has attracted widespread GOP support:
HH: Rarely do I ever talk to any of my law partners on the air, but today, I’ve talked to two. Judge Larson began the show talking about the FIFA scandal, because he’s a former federal prosecutor. And Phil English ends the show, former Congressman from the great state of Pennsylvania. I say that rarely, but I say it to Phil, because he’s from Erie, Pennsylvania, home of Camp Notre Dame, where I went as a child. And he’s a former member of the Ways and Means Committee, and he knows about TPA. Phil English, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you.
PE: It’s a privilege to be on, Hugh.
HH: Well, let’s begin by making sure people understand that Erie is alive and kicking, and that you will represent Erie’s best interests on this radio show.
PE: Without question, and what that means is we need to have policies that encourage exports. Erie is a manufacturing town that produces manufactures that are export competitive. And if we’re going to rebuild the American economy, we need to have an export-oriented strategy.
HH: Now Phil, TPA is much debated. In fact, it came up with Ed Henry today when I was talking to him earlier about Hillary Clinton in South Carolina. Hillary Clinton will not take a position on TPA. A lot of Republicans are all over the place on TPA. Would you explain, first of all, what trade promotion authority is, and why Republicans ought to be for it?
PE: Republicans ought to be for something that’s going to produce a coherent, strong trade policy. And the only we can negotiate trade agreements is if we have a structure where Congress turns over to the U.S. trade representative the authority to negotiate a completed agreement, but also sets the directives. And that’s what TPA is. It’s a series of mandates of what Congress wants to have negotiated, and then gives the authority to the USTR and their team to negotiate a trade agreement and then bring it back to Congress where it, rather than have it torn apart by the amendment process, it can be voted up or down. That’s controversial in the sense that because a trade agreement is complicated and can’t be picked apart under the TPA process, the special interests are always reluctant to see Congress allow TPA to go into law.
HH: But I want to make sure people understand we’ve done this forever, and it’s not unconstitutional. It’s actually the Congress says bring us one bill and we will vote one bill. It’s not, it is in no way an unlawful delegation of Constitutionally-mandated authority to Congress. Do you agree with that, Phil English?
PE: Without question. And all that Congress is doing is delegating an authority but doing it in a way that it still votes up or down on whatever is brought back. It cannot be amended, and this TPA product allows for an advanced rescission. In other words, if Congress disagrees with what is going on, they can stop the TPA process in its tracks. This is also structured in a way that the negotiating objectives are thoroughly modernized, and there is an opportunity every single member of Congress to qualify for briefings on what exactly is being negotiated. So there’s a huge degree of accountability, of transparency that hasn’t been there in the past.
HH: Okay, so you come to the next issue, and I didn’t know I was going to do this, but I am going to post this at Hughhewitt.com, because a lot of people did now know about this. There’s been a charge of secrecy in this process, that given the genuine distrust of Team Obama that permeates the Republican side has led some traditional free traders to say no, not with this guy, not this time. I think you just gave the response, but elaborate on that.
PE: Every member of Congress can look at what is being proposed. And if they don’t like what is being proposed, they can actively, under this statute, launch a process that can stop the TPA process in its tracks. It’s also important to understand no trade agreement is negotiated out in front of everyone. That is to say if we want our trading partners to give their last, best offer, we need to have a certain measure of discretion. We have to have a tactical approach to negotiating these agreements. And instead of providing full transparency to everyone all the time, it’s full transparency to the elected officials. And we are a republic, and that is entirely Constitutional. I think it’s worth noting, Hugh, that the people who are complaining about the lack of transparency here are not complaining about the lack of transparency in the nuclear treaty with Iran.
HH: So what’s the upside of trade promotion authority, and in specifically, the Trans-Pacific Pact?
PE: If done properly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership creates a new trading system in the Pacific, dominated by our values, dominated by high standards, and initially will not include China. China has to qualify to join. And unlike the WTO, is going to have to adhere to serious trade disciplines in order to join this trading bloc. Many of the details with TPP have not been fully worked through. The last, best offer has not happened yet because of the lack of trade promotion authority. Because our trading partners have known the Congress hasn’t delegated the ability to negotiate this by USTR, I’m afraid they’ve been holding back, and this has delayed the process. But TPP itself is going to be a new kind of trade agreement. It’s going to avoid the mistakes, frankly, that some attribute to NAFTA. It will provide for a higher level of integration, but very high standards and protecting the things that make our economy competitive, like intellectual property rights.
HH: And now Phil English, if I can keep you for the last segment of the show through the break, don’t go anywhere. I want to come back and ask you whether or not we gain some leverage on the People’s Republic of China, which is up to some pretty shaky stuff, some very sketchy stuff in the islands around the South China Sea. If we put together the TPP, whether or not we gain international leverage on China.
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HH: Phil English, what do you think is the additional advantage on the foreign policy side of having TPP in place if China continues its very aggressive behavior noted in the last two days by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post?
PE: I think that it provides real substance to the Obama administration’s imputed pivot to Asia. This is a real opportunity to bring together the potential allies that would be a counterweight to Chinese intervention. I feel very strongly that this is probably the best economic strategy to send a message to China that the countries that they rely on as part of their supply chain are going to be operating within the American sphere, and within a standard-based, rules-based trading system, that they’re going to feel an obligation if they’re going to remain competitive, to begin to move in the direction of our standards and our disciplines. And I think that is going to change the game seriously in the Pacific Rim.
HH: Now Phil English, last question, I began today talking with Stephen Larson about the FIFA arrests. And people are worried about, now, international organizations throwing money around and corrupting the whole system and being the opposite of transparent. Do TPP and TPA help or hinder the process of bringing transparency into international negotiations?
PE: I have to believe they strongly help, because TPA adds the transparency, but ultimately, TPP includes disciplines that push all countries that are part of that alliance in the direction of greater transparency, greater disciplines, anti-corruption incentives. It will play a significant role in flushing out some of the problems that we’re experiencing today with trade in the part of the world.
HH: So last question, which Republicans are on the fence, if any? My audience always likes to know who should be for TPP or TPA that isn’t?
PE: You know, that’s a very good question. I’m not sure the Republicans have all spoken out on it. I noticed that Mr. Huckabee came out strongly, seemingly, against TPA. Others, I haven’t really seen as clear an expression as I’d like to get a sense of exactly what they’re for. Of course, a couple of the guys who are in the Senate I believe have voted for it now. It passed by a substantial margin. And it is now pending before the House, where I think it’s going to be the level of support on the Republican side that will decide whether TPA happens.
HH: Phil English, I’ll come back to you as that story develops. Thank you very much, Congressman Phil English, always a pleasure to talk to you.
End of interview.