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July 1 Anniversary of USMCA Spotlights Why Fast Track Is Outdated, Bad Policy That Should Have Been Dustbinned Years Ago

CONTACT: Derrick Robinson, drobinson@citizen.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 1 marks the expiration of the Fast Track Trade Authority that Congress delegated in 2015 by a narrow margin after a heated battle. It’s also the one-year anniversary of the implementation of the revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Fast Track process, renamed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in 2002 to try to evade growing congressional and public opposition to the broad Nixon-era delegation of Congress’ exclusive constitutional trade authority, was critical in railroading through Congress extremely controversial trade agreements, such as the original NAFTA. Fast Track empowers a president to unilaterally pick negotiating partners, set terms of pacts, sign and enter into them, write implementing bills without congressional involvement and jam such legislation through Congress within a set number of days without any amendments and limited debate. A 2013 Public Citizen book revealed six forms of trade authority Congress created to work with the executive branch on trade pacts since the nation’s founding and how Fast Track helped to empower corporate interests to rig trade pacts with retrograde non-trade policies, such as the expansive intellectual property monopolies now at issue in the COVID-19 vaccine shortage crisis. Public Citizen has long called for the replacement of Fast Track with an inclusive process to yield broadly supported pacts that could pass Congress without requiring a ban on amendments and debate. Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach issued the following statement:

“Fast Track was a terrible idea when Nixon cooked it up in the 1970s to handcuff Congress on trade and has been instrumental in ramming a series of job-killing, Big Pharma monopoly-boosting,  unsafe-import-flooding, corporate-power-expanding policies through Congress.

“Fast Track should have been relegated to the museum of terrible-policies-that-harmed-Americans decades ago: Nothing makes that clearer than the extreme process becoming an impediment to renegotiating NAFTA in 2018 such that breaking Fast Track in 2019 not only did not scare away trade partners but is the main reason supermajorities in Congress ultimately passed the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA).

“One of the key takeaways of the USMCA’s one-year anniversary is that Fast Track is a myth. Handcuffing Congress is not necessary to pass good trade deals that enjoy broad support because their terms might actually benefit working people and the environment.

“The NAFTA renegotiation process showed that Fast Track is actually counterproductive since the Democratic majority forced the Trump administration to renegotiate the initial renegotiated NAFTA. The main corporate argument, that U.S. trade partners would not negotiate without Fast Track, was exposed for the lie it has always been. Indeed, when Democrats in Congress forced the Trump administration to break Fast Track and empower Congress to have a more appropriate policymaking role, terms that actually represent a broad set of interests and could work for working people and consumers were added, and Big Pharma giveaways were removed. The result was passage of the ‘revised revised’ deal by supermajorities so large the extreme Fast Track process was not needed to limit debate in the Senate.

“This auspicious date reminds us that you don’t need a delegation of congressional authority to hammer out trade agreements. The initial text of the revised NAFTA that then-President Donald Trump signed in 2018 was negotiated under Fast Track rules, with privileged corporate access and limited input from Congress, the public, or labor and environmental experts. The resulting deal added new monopoly protections for Big Pharma to lock in high medicine prices, and its labor and environmental terms would not have counteracted NAFTA’s ongoing outsourcing of jobs and pollution and downward pressure on wages.

“Responding to civil society outrage, congressional Democrats leveraged their majority to demand changes outside the Fast Track process. That is why the final USMCA, though not the model for future pacts, has significant improvements from which we can build. This includes rollbacks of Big Pharma monopolies and extreme foreign investor rights and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) extrajudicial regime. It also has improved labor provisions and enforcement tools, including the labor Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), which is a targeted, facility-specific enforcement mechanism unique to the USMCA that is devised to protect workers’ right to organize.

“The AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y de Servicios Movimiento 20/32 (SNITIS), and Public Citizen filed the first USMCA RRM case, which was the base of a formal complaint filed before Mexico by the U.S. government and is now being assessed by Mexican authorities.

“It remains to be seen if the hard-won labor rights advances in the USMCA result in significantly improved conditions for workers in Mexico – but as we await the first case’s resolution, and celebrate one year of the three-year transition period for the termination of most of NAFTA’s ISDS mechanism, the end of Fast Track is certainly something to celebrate.”