Background: Beginning this week President Obama will marshal his Cabinet members to pressure members of Congress to vote in favor of Fast-Track Authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority.
[Memo from R-CALF USA | January 19, 2015]
Fast-Track Authority is Nixon-era legislation that delegates to the President authorities that the U.S. Constitution granted only to Congress, in particular the authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
During the Nixon-era, free trade agreements (FTAs) were all about lowering tariffs and making changes to custom rules.
But today’s FTAs, beginning with NAFTA in 1994, are much more complicated and expansive. They go well beyond lowering tariffs and changing custom rules as they now make significant changes to domestic laws.
Under Fast-Track, the President can unilaterally choose which country he wants a FTA with and then can negotiate and sign the agreement before Congress even has an opportunity to vote. Once signed and submitted, Congress has only 90 days to vote on the FTA with only an up or down vote, no amendments allowed. Worse, the President is also authorized to circumvent Congress’ normal law-making processes by drafting the implementing legislation that puts the FTA into effect.
This is how President Clinton committed the U.S. to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and then drew the United States into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. As soon as we entered the WTO the President rewrote our most important food safety laws – the laws that required importing countries to have food safety standards that were at least equal to our own and that required regular and frequent inspections of foreign meat processing plants. The changes were made for no other reason than to make it easier for developing countries to import more food into the United States. The changes also made it easier for importing countries to send contaminated food to the U.S. because they now only need to meet a lesser equivalency standards and inspections are only done periodically (such as after a recall of contaminated meat is initiated).
Fast-Track effectively undermines the checks and balances established by our U.S. Constitution because it gives the President extraordinary powers that our Founding Fathers never intended a president to have.
It is widely accepted on Capitol Hill that the reason the President is making a renewed run at passing Fast-Track Authority is because Congress is finally becoming leery of all the broken promises associated with the 20 NAFTA-style FTAs we have already implemented. As a result, Congress would likely reject the President’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA that the President, along with Wall Street executives and multinational corporations, has been negotiating in secret with 12 countries.
In other words, the President knows that the TPP will not pass muster with Congress and so he needs Fast-Track Authority so he can undermine Congress’ constitutional authority to win the TPP.
Action: Please call both your Senators and your Representative this week and urge them to flatly reject the President’s request for Fast-Track Authority.
You can reach your members of Congress by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and asking for your Senators and Representative by name. When you make the call, be sure to ask for the staff person that handles trade matters.
R-CALF USA opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA (TPP). Here’s just a few reasons why:
- The TPP is modeled after NAFTA which has caused a huge U.S. trade deficit in the trade of cattle and beef with Canada and Mexico. Under NAFTA, the U.S. cattle industry has accumulated a $22.6 billion deficit in the trade of live cattle, beef, beef variety meats and processed meat through 2013. The NAFTA trade deficit in 2013 alone was over $1.1 billion. The TPP will worsen this deficit.
- The glowing promises made by the President and Congress when the first 20 FTAs, which like the TPP are all patterned after NAFTA, have never materialized. Instead, those 20 FTAs have significantly drained the economic vitality out of our domestic cattle and sheep industries through mounting deficits. The accumulated deficit in the trade of live cattle, beef, beef variety meats and processed meat with the 20 FTA countries since 1994 is $30.9 billion, which means all the other FTAs have worsened the NAFTA deficit. In fact, the 2013 deficit resulting from all 20 FTAs was $1.6 billion, which added another half a billion on the original NAFTA deficit. The TPP will worsen this deficit.
- The existing TPP-type free trade agreements have eliminated opportunities for U.S. farmers and ranchers that raise cattle and sheep by causing our herds to shrink (since NAFTA, our cattle herd shrank by over 13 million head, leaving us with the smallest herd in about 70 years, and our sheep herd shrank nearly in half, to the smallest size in history) and causing producers to exit our cattle and sheep industries in droves (since NAFTA we’ve lost 178,000 cattle operations and nearly half of all commercial sheep operations with 100 or more head of sheep have been driven out of business).
- Of the 20 TPP-style FTAs we already have, the U.S.-South Korea FTA was the most likely FTA to provide expanded opportunities for U.S. cattle producers because South Korea’s 40 percent tariff was to be eliminated. However, the average monthly volume of beef exports to South Korea during the 33 months before the FTA was implements was greater than the average monthly volume of beef exports during the 33 months after implementation. This is alarming because it demonstrates that FTA’s even with countries that are already significant customers of U.S. beef are not likely to provide any benefits to the U.S. cattle industry and will not likely help to offset deficits with countries from which the U.S. imports large volumes of beef
- The TPP, like all FTAs before it, fails to incorporate any meaningful provisions to address the severe supply-sensitive nature of our U.S. cattle and sheep industries. In 2012, U.S. Representative Kristy Noem (R-SD) and Senators John Thune (R-SD), Max Baucus (D-MT), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Hoeven (R-ND), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Mike Enzi (R-WY) and John Barrasso (R-WY) joined in a request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an investigation to determine what was causing the collapse of the U.S. sheep market. After a year-long investigation, the USDA concluded that imported lamb was likely the most important factor in driving down U.S. sheep prices. The investigation found that about half of all lamb consumed in the U.S. is now imported, with Australia being the largest supplier and New Zealand supplying the rest. The TPP, which includes New Zealand, will most certainly destroy what is left of our beleaguered commercial sheep industry that has been decimated by the United States’ abject failure to provide either the cattle industry or sheep industry with tools to mitigate the devastating effects of unrestrained imports. Despite the results of USDAs investigation, no one has demanded that the TPP include safeguards to prevent the destruction of our sheep and cattle industries. The sheep industry is the cattle industry’s canary in the coal mine and the TPP will intensify the harm that unrestrained imports have on our supply-sensitive cattle and sheep industries.
Feel free to send all or part of this alert to your members of Congress or to anyone else you may want to send it to.
Thanks and good luck with your calls!