Why we need ‘fast track’

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Repub­li­can lead­ers in the House are strug­gling to push through a “fast track” bill for trade agree­ments, which ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say is cru­cial to ne­go­ti­at­ing good ones. They wouldn’t be in this po­si­tion if rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Cal­i­for­nia, whose econ­omy is un­usu­ally de­pen­dent on trade, lined up be­hind the bill. In­stead, Democrats are largely non­com­mit­tal or op­posed, while even some Repub­li­cans from trade-heavy dis­tricts are balk­ing.

Cal­i­for­nia has an enor­mous and di­verse econ­omy, but trade plays an in­te­gral role in some of its strong­est sec­tors. The na­tion’s five metropoli­tan ar­eas with the largest agri­cul­tural ex­ports are all in Cal­i­for­nia; four are rep­re­sented by Democrats who are mum about or hos­tile to fast track. The sit­u­a­tion is much the same in the dis­tricts where ex­ports ac­count for the great­est per­cent­age of lo­cal in­come, such as Sil­i­con Val­ley, and where some of the coun­try’s largest ports and freight op­er­a­tions are based.

For ex­am­ple, Demo­crat Jan­ice Hahn of San Pe­dro, whose dis­trict in­cludes the gi­ant Port of Los An­ge­les, is op­pos­ing the bill be­cause she thinks Congress should be able to amend deals the ad­min­is­tra­tion ne­go­ti­ates, rather than sim­ply ap­prov­ing or re­ject­ing them. That ap­proach would ef­fec­tively pre­vent the United States from con­clud­ing the pending Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and any other ma­jor agree­ments, even as other global pow­ers are rac­ing to set up their own re­gional pacts. That’s a par­tic­u­lar risk in Asia, where the United States is try­ing to move Pa­cific na­tions to­ward U.S. stan­dards for trade, la­bor and the en­vi­ron­ment in­stead of fol­low­ing China’s lead in the other di­rec­tion.

Mean­while, key state and lo­cal of­fi­cials are con­spic­u­ously si­lent on the bill, which has drawn op­po­si­tion from the ide­o­log­i­cally odd cou­ple of or­ga­nized la­bor and tea party con­ser­va­tives. Gov. Jerry Brown, whose sup­port could pro­vide po­lit­i­cal cover for other Democrats, has begged off. The mayor of West Cov­ina found the time last month to sign a let­ter from the U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors urg­ing the Se­nate to pass the fast­track bill; the mayor of Los An­ge­les did not.

For their part, con­gres­sional Democrats — many of whom won their seats with the help of or­ga­nized la­bor — com­plain that the bill doesn’t de­mand enough from trade deals on such is­sues as hu­man rights, cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion and en­force­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal and la­bor reg­u­la­tions. But that’s disin­gen­u­ous. A fast-track mea­sure wouldn’t dic­tate the terms of fu­ture trade agree­ments; it would merely tell the ad­min­is­tra­tion what Congress wants to see in them, while re­serv­ing the right to deny fast­track treat­ment to any deal that falls short. Law­mak­ers would also re­tain the power to vote down trade agree­ments they don’t like. With so much at stake for Cal­i­for­nia, law­mak­ers here should join the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in sup­port­ing a bi­par­ti­san fast­track bill, then make sure the White House meets the goals they set.

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