Congress is considering a trade bill that is pitting President Obama against many members of his own party and some Republicans. Though the two sides have major differences, a compromise is still possible and would be good for the American economy.
Mr. Obama is pushing for a bill that sets negotiating objectives for trade agreements and binds Congressional lawmakers to casting up-or-down votes on those deals for up to six years. This “fast-track” process would be used for two big pacts being negotiated now: the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Mexico, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. Mr. Obama argues that foreign negotiators will not put their best offer on the table if Congress can easily amend deals after they have been signed.
On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to take up the bill, which is opposed by some liberal Democrats who believe such trade agreements hurt American workers and by Republicans who do not want to give the president a victory. Getting support in the House might be even harder.
The important thing to remember about the Pacific and European trade deals is that they are not primarily about lowering customs duties and quotas. While these deals would reduce those barriers to trade, they would have much of their impact by getting countries to adopt similar regulations in areas like labor standards, environmental protection, how governments treat foreign investors and patent and copyright law.
Done right, the Pacific trade deal, which is nearing completion, could help reduce environmental destruction and improve the lives of workers in countries like Brunei, Peru, Chile and Vietnam, which are part of the negotiations. That agreement would also strengthen American alliances in Asia because it includes Malaysia and Singapore. Administration officials say other countries like South Korea and Thailand might want to join the pact in the future.
Some provisions that are expected to be part of the deal could raise problems. For example, some public interest groups fear that the deal could force developing countries to adopt strict patent regulations that could make many medicines unaffordable to poor people.