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United States’ free trade agreements

United States' free trade agreements

Figure 1 – United States’ free trade agreements

While the President retains the power to make treaties, Congress has the authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and may exercise its power in other ways, from oversight on international trade policies and programmes to implementing legislation on international trade matters. Although many committees may be involved, depending on their specific jurisdiction, in Congress the primary responsibility for trade matters rests with the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. To reaffirm Congress’s overall constitutional role in initiating and overseeing US trade policy, Congress has enacted Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation. Also known as ‘fast-track’, TPA is an expedited procedure that allows Congress to implement trade agreements, providing that the administration fulfils the negotiating objectives and respects certain requirements on notification to and consultation with Congress. In general, expedited procedures may establish time for floor scheduling of bills, limit debate in committees and/or limit the possibility to offer (i.e. table) amendments. In the specific case of trade, the modern form of TPA, introduced in 1974, establishes, among other things, automatic discharge from committee, limited floor debate, and an ‘up or down’ vote without amendments. This latter is an important element in trade negotiations, as foreign nations may be confident that the negotiated agreement with the executive will not be amended by the legislative branch. Finally, TPA establishes the process for Congress to withdraw the expedited procedure to an implementing bill, should it consider that TPA requirements have not been fulfilled. In such a case, the implementing bill would be considered under the general rules of procedures, with Congress enabled to offer amendments. The United States is party to 14 international free trade agreements (FTAs) with 20 countries and is also negotiating a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.

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