“Fast track” is the authority granted by Congress to the Administration to negotiate trade agreements that cannot be amended by Congress and can only be voted on up or downon, as negotiated. "Fast track" authority, formally known as Trade Promotion Authority, expired at the end of June 2007. Congress was able to consider those trade agreements that were negotiated and signed earlier by the Bush Administration (Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea) because they were negotiated while "fast track" rules were in effect.
The Obama Administration said when it entered office that it would not ask for "fast track"authority before undertaking extensive consultations about future directions for U.S. trade policy but it has since then begun negotiations for a TransPacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). The Administration is expected to seek in 2013 renewal of fast track authority.
Eventual Congressional consideration of renewal of “fast track” will represent a critical deliberation on globalization because it will set the rules for future trade agreements. USLEAP is opposed to renewal of “fast track” without dramatic changes that would represent a fundamentally new approach to rules for global trade and globalization. USLEAP believes that trade rules must include effective enforcement of protections for workers, the environment, farmers, and consumers. A May 2007 Trade Deal (see below) takes a significant step on improving protections for workers but does not go far enough and does not represent a fundamentally new approach to global trade.
Passage of "fast track" legislation in the 2002 led to a strong push by the Bush Administration to negotiate new trade agreements around the world, including the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Peru, Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.
The workers rights protections in CAFTA and NAFTA were a big step back from those that applied under pre-existing U.S. trade programs. Standards are higher and sanctions are more immediate and better targeted under current U.S. trade programs that continue to govern trade policy with countries with whom the U.S. does not have a Free Trade Agreement. Approval of trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have greatly reduced the ability to use U.S. trade policy as a source of leverage for respecting worker rights in Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic.
May 2007 Trade Deal
In May 2007, House Democrats (then in control of the House) and the Bush Administration agreed to strengthen worker rights provisions in pending trade agreements as a condition for Congress voting on the pending agreements with Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. The text of the agreement was released in June 2007. Some unions, including the AFL-CIO, praised the agreement as a significant step towards protecting worker rights but questioned whether the Bush Administration would enforce the protections and argued that the agreement is inadequate in providing protections for the environment, consumers and farmers. The AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and other unions agree that the May 2007 template must be further strengthened in any future trade agreements that come after the current round. Human Rights Watch produced an analysis of the "labor template" that found significant improvements but important question marks. As of January 2012, the May 2007 labor protections had not been tested.
Obama Administration Position on Fast Track and May 2007 Deal
In a February 2009 document released by the U.S. Trade Representative, the Obama Administration stated that it wouldl not seek renewal of "fast track" trade authority before engaging in an extensive round of consultations. Since then, the Obama Administration has begun negotiations for a TransPacific Partnership (TPP) FTA involving the US, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Singapore and Peru.
New USTR Ron Kirk testified in March 2009 that the Obama administration wanted to improve upon the May 2007 agreement, but didn't offer specifics other than to put a critical qualifier that the Administration will not push for agreements that would require changes in U.S. domestic labor law. This is a sign that it will not push for agreements that require compliance with the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, most of which have not been ratified by the U.S. Compliance with ILO conventions is a central tenant of the international trade union movement.
The Administration says it is committed to "working with our trading partners to improve the status, conditions, and protections of workers" and to ensure that "competitiveness is not based on the exploitation of workers." Details were not provided.
In 2011, the Obama Administration moved aggressively to revive the free trade agenda, securing passage of three Bush-era Free Trade Agreements (wth Colombia, Peru, and Panama) that had been pending for five years and continuing negotiations for a major Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The Administration's proposal for worker rights protections under TPP are reportedly slightly stronger than those contained in the May 2007 accord but fall short of what worker rights advocates consider necessary.
New Rules for Trade Backed by Over 100 Members of Congress
In June 2009, over 100 members of Congress pledged support for a new approach to U.S. trade policy and new rules for the global economy. A growing list of cosponsors of the TRADE Act, introduced on June 24, 2009 by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), demonstrates a strong congressional push-back against the neo-liberal trade model put forth by President Bill Clinton with NAFTA and extended by President George Bush with CAFTA and other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), including the pending Colombia FTA.
The Trade, Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act seeks to shift the trade debate from a narrow focus to a broader discussion about developing a new and vastly improved trade and globalization model.
The TRADE Act would require a comprehensive assessment of the impact of current trade agreements before any new agreement is approved. It also stipulates what must be included in future trade agreements (e.g. provisions to protect workers, the environment, farmers, and human rights) and what must not be included (e.g. new rights for foreign investors to weaken domestic laws protecting health and the environment), and opens the door to renegotiating current trade agreements. It also replaces the expedited "fast track" voting procedure on trade agreements with a process to ensure that future trade pacts meet the objectives outlined above.
A wide range of U.S. labor, environmental, farmer, consumer and faith groups have endorsed the TRADE Act. Both the Citizens Trade Campaign and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch have extensive background material, organizing resources, and action suggestions if your members of Congress are not yet co-sponsors of the bill.
USLEAP welcomes the TRADE Act and its critically important effort to outline a strong alternative to the current trade and globalization model that has devastated workers at home and abroad in one race to the bottom after another.