The benefit of international trade isn’t simply an abstract concept found in economics textbooks — it is a practical reality for individuals and businesses throughout Utah. More than 200 countries across the globe purchase Utah goods and services. According to the Business Roundtable, about 375,000 Utah jobs are supported by international trade. In other words, one in every five working Utahns — from ranchers and miners to bankers and technology entrepreneurs — rely for their livelihood on our nation’s ability to trade with other countries.
Artificial barriers to trade harm our ability to sell our goods and services at competitive prices to the 95 percent of the world’s consumers that live outside the United States. So bringing down these barriers and expanding our access to foreign markets must be a top priority as we seek to promote continued economic growth.
That’s why I led the effort in Washington to win passage of trade promotion authority (TPA). After months of substantive negotiations and political coalition-building, Congress passed TPA last week, and the president signed it into law.
The TPA bill, which I authored with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., provides a viable pathway for concluding trade agreements with other nations. Two major trade agreements now being negotiated — with 11 countries on the Pacific Rim as well as with the 28-nation European Union — would remove obstacles that currently impede the ability of Utahns and Americans to compete on a level playing field with their foreign competitors.
Our trade legislation received significant support from Utah’s business and political leaders, who know firsthand how important trade is for our state’s economy. As important as TPA is to facilitating new opportunities abroad for Utah businesses, the biggest beneficiaries will be everyday Utah families in the form of greater employment opportunities, higher paychecks and lower consumer prices that make a real difference for family budgets.
While some on the far left and the far right have sought to mischaracterize what our TPA or “fast track” bill actually does, the facts are simple. In addition to providing a means of enacting trade agreements, TPA constrains the president’s unilateral negotiating authority and provides detailed negotiating instructions specifying what the content of these agreements should be. Without our bill, the Obama administration could conclude a trade agreement with little direction from Congress, leaving the American people without a say on trade priorities. By contrast, our TPA bill gives Utahns and Americans a strong voice in guiding how our government negotiates these agreements.
Additionally, our legislation promotes accountability by providing enhanced transparency for negotiated trade agreements. Specifically, it compels the president to disclose the full content of any trade agreement he negotiates a full two months ahead of its consideration by Congress, allowing all Americans to participate in helping decide whether to approve a particular agreement.
For too long, Congress has been preoccupied with ideological purity and partisan grandstanding, rather than producing concrete results for the American people. Passing TPA required Republicans and Democrats to come together in a bipartisan fashion and work through difficult, thorny issues. Our ultimate success demonstrated that it is indeed possible for elected officials on both sides of the aisle to rise above partisanship and find common ground on our shared priorities to strengthen the economy and create jobs. Doing so also required significant cooperation between the president and Congress.
While President Obama and I disagree on most issues, TPA was a rare opportunity to work together to score a big win for the American people and American leadership throughout the world. I hope the president and congressional leaders in both parties can build on this important victory and continue to work together to deliver meaningful results to the American people.
Orrin Hatch is Utah’s senior U.S. senator and the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.