Despite an interval of cordiality in the White House meeting with Republican leaders, it’s still a fractious environment on Capitol Hill between the GOP and President Barack Obama. But we like the notion that the president can make common ground with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate on trade policy.
Except that some liberal Democrats don’t like that idea one bit.
Critical to passing major trade agreements, like those under negotiation with American trading partners across the Pacific and across the Atlantic, is so-called “fast-track” authority.
That allows Congress to give swifter approval of the agreements instead of renegotiating each deal — which have already been the subject of lengthy and elaborate negotiations with foreign governments. Foreign governments would think it unreasonable to reopen years of talks over points that could be as politically difficult in their countries as they might be in the United States. No agreement would ever be final.
Fast-track authority has been part of the president’s arsenal of tools for trade policy for decades but it has fallen into the ultrapartisan trap of today’s Washington. It is not, as critics allege, carte blanche to change American laws through the trade negotiation process.
We support fast-track and urge Congress to get a move on in this arena.
The stakes for Louisiana in expanded trade are high, according to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. “Few states stand to gain as much as we do from an aggressive approach to free trade in Congress this year,” LABI President Stephen Waguespack said.
The World Trade Center in New Orleans rated Louisiana as sixth among U.S. exporters, led by petrochemicals but also strong in agriculture. Waguespack said manufacturing is on the rise in Louisiana and provides new opportunities for Louisiana workers.
We might add that exports to Cuba, although not part of the pending agreements, could one day be of significant value to Louisiana farmers and other exporters in the state. There is also the burgeoning business of natural gas exports to consider for the future.
Free trade tends to focus businesses on what they do best: making money. And if there is no longer a market for something, businesses won’t make that product.
That happened when good Louisiana workers lost their jobs in garment manufacturing plants some years ago. Those bad effects hurt other states as well. But the economic record of free trade is overall one of growing prosperity and mutual benefit, even if there are downsides.
We hope that the president and Congress work on a good deal for trade this year, before the entirely predictable political chaos of a 2016 presidential election season.