On Friday, I voted for Trade Promotion Authority, the so-called TPA, and given the number of concerns I have heard, wanted to write about it.
For me, the vote boiled down to several questions. Is my belief in the concept of free trade bigger than my concerns with this president? Is TPA something out of the ordinary? What is at stake here beyond trade itself? How would this help or harm the residents of the 1st District? There were other considerations as well, but let’s explore these for a moment.
Empowering the marketplace and trade has long been significant to conservatives because it’s a proxy for where the power of decision-making takes place. The decisions that can take place in the market empower the individual over government, and it’s for this reason historically that conservatives have favored trade agreements aimed in that direction. Overwhelmingly Democrats in the House and Senate were against the measure.
Given many of his actions with regard to both the Constitution and the Congress, I understand not warming to giving the president additional authority.
The problem in this instance is that he already has the ability to negotiate a trade deal, and American trade is far bigger than he is, as he will be gone in 18 months. David Ricardo’s notion of comparative advantage and trade has been here since 1817 and will be with us for years to come.
Our country, state and region have been positively impacted by free trade, and about one in four jobs in South Carolina are tied to international trade and investment. The BMWs made in Spartanburg don’t stay here, nor do a long list of others, given that 80 percent of the exporting companies are small and medium-sized businesses in our state.
At the onset of the Great Depression, Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Act, increasing tariffs on imports. Not surprising, other countries responded, and over the next four years world trade decreased by 66 percent. By 1934, Congress reversed course and passed legislation granting President Franklin Roosevelt authority to negotiate lower tariffs with other countries. Every subsequent president has been granted authority to do the same, and the question I had to ask on Friday was do I vote to change this? It’s particularly important now, given that 96 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S.
Many people have confused negotiating rules, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ongoing trade negotiation with 11 Pacific Rim countries. TPA is a public document, and I have had it up and on our website. TPP is not yet public, but when passed, it’s to be available to the public for 60 days before Congress can vote on it. Sadly that’s far more transparency than we see in most of Congress’s work.
Having a trade agreement negotiated by one office rather than 535 members of Congress is important whether we like that one person or not.
As governor, I saw firsthand the importance of vesting in one person this authority. Get your best deal, and then we vote it up or down. If not, a negotiation dies a death of a thousand cuts as each interest group wants to add or subtract from it.
Finally, I believe TPA maintains the constitutional balance between the executive and legislative branches. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution reserves to Congress the power to regulate foreign commerce. In 1890, Congress granted the president authority to negotiate trade agreements with foreign countries, and in a variety of forms Congress has done this ever since.
Does this mean any of these deals will be perfect? Absolutely not. What we have had, and what this bill I think is all ultimately about, is a general bias for more than 100 years in this country toward open trade and lowering trade barriers. Condi Rice wrote an excellent op-ed in The Washington Post a few days ago, suggesting what happens here goes well beyond trade but rather to America’s place in the world.
I agree with her. It’s important we continue to look for ways to engage with the rest of the world, and trade is our chief means. And on that, I do hope we can find agreement.
Mark Sanford, a Republican, represents South Carolina’s 1st District in the U.S. House.