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International Relations, PUBLICATIONS

Role of the US Congress in trade agreements: The ‘Fast-Track’ procedure

Written by Micaela Del Monte and Laura Puccio

Role of the US Congress in trade agreements: The 'fast-track' procedure

© Andrea Izzotti / Fotolia

Since 1974 the United States Congress has enacted Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation to ensure speedy implementation of trade agreements in the United States, while maintaining a congressional hold on the objectives to be pursued by US negotiators. TPA defines a streamlined procedure (or expedited procedure) to vote in Congress on international trade agreements negotiated during a specific defined period of time. The current (2015) Trade Promotion Authority Act, which was finally passed in June 2015, sets out the rules for the expedited procedures applicable to any international agreement entered into by the US before 1 July 2018 (with possible extension up to 1 July 2021).

This expedited procedure (often referred to as ‘fast-track’) allows the implementing legislation to be passed on a yes/no vote without the possibility of amendments by Congress. Without this procedure, such legislation would follow the general rules of procedures, which would allow Congress to introduce amendments to the implementing legislation of the agreement and which therefore might require the reopening of negotiations with the counterparts.

The expedited procedure is authorised on the condition that the US President observes certain obligations in negotiating trade agreements, including negotiating objectives for the administration to follow, and notification and reporting requirements to Congress. Though the original TPA has evolved over time, Congress retains the authority to review and decide whether any proposed US trade agreement will be implemented. Equally the expedited procedure ensures the President’s credibility in the complex negotiations needed for trade agreements by ensuring that a trade agreement, once signed by the executive, will not be changed by the legislative branch.

Read the complete In-depth Analysis on ‘Role of the US Congress in trade agreements: The ‘Fast-Track’ procedure‘ in PDF.


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