What fast track means

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Y agree­ing to

Bput new trade agree­ments on a fast track, Congress ac­com­plished some­thing far greater than crit­ics of the leg­is­la­tion ac­knowl­edge. Since the last fast- track law ex­pired in 2007, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t been able to close any ma­jor deals. Now the United States will be able to take the lead again on global trade pol­icy, ad­vanc­ing distinc­tively Amer­i­can no­tions about how to give busi­nesses a more level play­ing field on which to com­pete, con­sumers more choices of goods and ser­vices, and U. S. work­ers more pro­tec­tion at a time of ram­pant glob­al­iza­tion.

But the six- year fast- track bill also does less than its crit­ics claim: It does not “grease the skids” for ma­jor but con­tro­ver­sial trade deals such as the Trans- Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. Those agree­ments will still be sub­ject to con­gres­sional scru­tiny, and may be de­nied fast­track treat­ment in ei­ther or both cham­bers if they don’t meet the ne­go­ti­at­ing ob­jec­tives Congress set. And even those that are given fast- track treat­ment, which pre­vents Congress from of­fer­ing amend­ments, still have to pass an up- or- down vote.

In lob­by­ing Congress for fast track, Pres­i­dent Obama made a per­sua­sive case for the need to re­assert U. S. lead­er­ship on trade, par­tic­u­larly in Asia, where China has been lin­ing up its own trad­ing net­works. Now that pro- trade Repub­li­cans and cen­trist Democrats have pre­vailed over union- backed lib­er­als and tea party con­ser­va­tives, it’s up to Obama to de­liver a Trans- Pa­cific Part­ner­ship that leads the re­gion in a di­rec­tion that serves all of our in­ter­ests.

In par­tic­u­lar, he needs to pro­duce a deal with la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards that not only mir­ror our own but are en­force­able in mean­ing­ful ways. That was one of the short­com­ings of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, but the Pa­cific deal — in which Mexico and Canada are among the 12 na­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing — of­fers a chance to fix that mis­take. The agree­ment must also pre­serve our abil­ity to im­pose tougher stan­dards in the United States for con­sumer safety, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, with­out stop­ping Congress from eas­ing rules that have be­come out­dated.

These are im­por­tant prin­ci­ples. The specifics of any agree­ment, though, will nec­es­sar­ily in­volve com­pro­mises, and law­mak­ers should be open to those as well. The point isn’t to pro­mote more trade for its own sake. That growth is hap­pen­ing any­way; the glob­al­iza­tion train left the sta­tion years ago and it’s not com­ing back. The point is to push our trad­ing part­ners to em­brace the kinds of stan­dards for man­u­fac­tur­ing and com­merce that the United States has adopted, while in­clud­ing the mech­a­nisms needed to en­force them. Pres­i­dent Obama, you’ve got the au­thor­ity you sought; the ball is now in your court.

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