TPA & TPP for Dummies (like me)

As an economist by training and a political junkie by avocation, you’d think that the current hubbub re: TPA & TPP would be immediately clear to me.


I’ve listened closely to the politicos (Paul Ryan included) talk about TPA and TPP …  all they’ve done is muddle things.



After chatting with a pol-in-the-know, I think that I at least understand the questions … and the reasons for the dust-up.



First thing to understand is that there are there are 2 “acts” under consideration.

TPA  stands for Trade Promotion Authority.

That sounds innocuous enough … simply giving the Executive Branch the authority to promote trade.

Not so fast.

What it really means is that the President can negotiate trade deals and then submit them to Congress for u-or-down approval with no amendments.

It’s being referred to as “fast-tracking” since the Congress wouldn’t dally with an amendment process and force a renegotiation of the details of a deal.

“Fast” isn’t what’s bothering some folks.

Rather, it’s the “all or nothing” approval process … up or down votes with no amendments.

In concept, the approach makes sense since well-negotiated deals involve some give-and-take … some concessions from all sides.

The rub is that some folks may be enduring the pain for the broader gain.

Think, labor unions.

Deals might be good for the country as a whole, but bad for union workers.

Understandably, they’d like Congress to amend the parts that hurt them.

More broadly, many people (me included) don’t trust the current Administration to negotiate the best deals (in the interest of the U.S.).

Think, delegating control of the Internet to the UN.

So, an up-or-down vote puts Congress in the position of approving deals that are – on balance – ok but not optimal.

Bottom line: liberals oppose TPA because union labor is usually on the short end of the stick … conservatives oppose because they don’t have confidence that the Administration will negotiate the best deal in the interests of the U.S.


The second part, TPP stands for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

TPP is an “extraordinary deal across 12 countries and 40 per cent of the world’s GDP.” Source

The details of the current – near final – version of the TPP are being kept secret.

Only members of Congress with security clearances are allowed to see it … they’re banned from taking notes when they read it … and they’re explicitly banned from talking about the details publically.

Not exactly a model of transparency.

Insiders say: “Negotiations are too sensitive for revelation of details still being worked out”.

Skeptics (me included) ask: “What are you guys hiding?”

Keep in mind, that once the TPP is finalized … with TPA, Congress only gets an up or down vote.

So, if there are some smelly provisions in it, they have to hold their noses and vote “on balance” whether the pact is ok.


The whole mess boils down to confidence in leadership and transparency.

In concept, I’m a free trade kinda guy but …

I don’t have confidence in the Administration to negotiate anything – whether it’s hostage swaps with the Taliban, nukes with the Irtanians, or trade with a dozen Asian countries.

And, based on history, secrecy breeds legitimate suspicion.

Anybody remember: “Pass it to see what’s in it”?



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2 Responses to “TPA & TPP for Dummies (like me)”

  1. Cliff Johnson Says:

    Ken, you left out the fact that with TPA in place, when the TPP is finalized it will be made public for a minimum of 60 days before Congress votes on it. So while the details of the negotiations are secret now (as they should be), the final product will be exposed to public scrutiny for some time before the vote.

  2. John Says:

    Big “Like” for your description here and Cliff’s comment. Now…will someone explain to me the octaflugeron Congress is going through to get this essentially same bill up for another vote. I read the news, but ……. what???

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