Farm Groups Debate on Fast Track Trade Authority

Farming2Not all farm groups are in agreement on whether President Barack Obama should be given fast track negotiating authority on foreign trade agreements. The proposal may be introduced as early as this week and would allow the administration to negotiate trade deals in secret and then send them to Congress for an up or down vote without the ability to make any amendments. Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of international strategies with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says the outcomes of previous deals such as NAFTA and CAFTA have proven that this is the wrong way to go. “While we’ve had tariffs go down, we’ve had greater protections for foreign investments,” she maintains. “So companies have been able to shift production to wherever it’s cheapest and farmers have lost bargaining power. So we have a real loss of family farms. We have farmers unable to get fair prices for their goods.” Supporters of Trade Promotion Authority, including the Tennessee Farm Bureau, say it will give the administration the power needed to best negotiate deals with other countries, opening new export markets for U.S. farmers and companies. Rhedona Rose, executive vice president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau, says with exports being important to the state’s agriculture industry, her organization supports giving the president and his staff authority to act fast. “We think it’s important for our negotiators to have the leverage of knowing that they’re acting within what Congress would want them to do,” she stresses. But Hansen-Kuhn says a better approach would be to make the process of negotiations on trade deals more transparent, allowing for congressional and public scrutiny. “There’s no reason they can’t be publishing exactly what it is they’re doing along the way,” she states. “They could give Congress a role in setting the negotiating objectives. “Let Congress certify that they’ve met those objectives before they complete the negotiations. Really just opening up the process, starting with transparency, would be a great start.” The debate over the fast track authority comes as the U.S. is in talks on two huge trade agreements – the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which have raised concerns among many food and farm groups.