President Obama signed two important trade measures — Trade Promotion Authority and the Trade Preferences Extension Act — into law on Monday, setting the stage to take negotiations on Asia-Pacific and European free-trade agreements to the next level.
Under TPA, formerly know as fast track, Congress can set negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the executive branch, but is limited to an up-or-down vote on trade deals. It is seen as a vital tool for trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the U.S. and 11 countries and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and European Union. TPA allows foreign governments to make their best offers knowing Congress cannot tear apart a final deal.
The trade preferences law renews the African Growth and Opportunity Act for 10 years, extends the Haiti HOPE/HELP trade program until 2025, and retroactively renews the Generalized System of Preferences program, while updating it to remove an exclusion on travel goods. The law also makes important clarifications to the tariff classifications for protective active footwear and performance outerwear.
It also includes Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that helps workers displaced by imports by giving them job training, search and relocation allowances, as well as income support and assistance with health-care premium costs. Initially, the House shot down legislation renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance, briefly derailing TPA before the two programs were voted on independently and approved.
Juanita D. Duggan, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, which advocated for both measures, said they “will give clothing and shoe companies more certainty and will reduce costs, which, in turn, is good for U.S. consumers and trade-based jobs in the United States, including the 4 million U.S. workers employed by our industry.”
Duggan said, “With TPA passed, the free-trade agreements currently being negotiated can be completed. These trade agreements have the potential to develop new markets for U.S.-branded clothes and shoes.”
Auggie Tantillo, president of the National Council of Textile Organization, said, “TPA is a vital part of overall U.S. trade policy which seeks to ensure strong and rational international trade agreements that fully incorporate the interests of American textile workers and the middle class. This legislation will help to ensure that free-trade agreements help to boost American exports, create jobs and strengthen the U.S. economy.”