May 07, 2015 - 12:00pm

'Trade Agreements are Anti-Dentite,' and Other Weird Things People Say about TPA

Senior Vice President for International Policy

Debate in Congress over a bill to renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is advancing, and support is growing among legislators and across the country.

It’s easy to see why. New trade agreements have great potential as a tool to stimulate economic growth and job creation, as the Chamber has explained in detail, and we can’t clinch new agreements without TPA.

But the silly season is upon us. Opponents are proving that they’ll say just about anything in their desperate effort to prevent Congress from renewing TPA. Here’s a selection of the weird, the odd, and the just plain wrong:

  1. “Trade agreements lead to trade deficits.”

    This argument has been pushed vigorously by anti-trade activists, and it could not be more wrong, as we’ve explained at length. Here’s the fact they are desperate to hide: The United States has a trade surplus with its 20 trade agreement partners as a group.

    The U.S. trade surplus with these 20 countries includes a $55 billion surplus in manufactured goods, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce (see the second page, at lower left). The United States has large trade surpluses in services and agricultural products.
  2. “Trade agreements undermine U.S. sovereignty.”

    According to some fringe groups, TPA will cede American sovereignty to a “North American Union,” apparently a kind of step toward a “New World Order.” This is absurd: TPA is an expression of the constitutional powers of Congress and the Administration, as no less an authority than Edwin Meese III, President Reagan’s attorney general, explained in a brief for the Heritage Foundation (“Why Trade Promotion Authority is Constitutional”).

    The TPA bill “confirms that the Administration cannot unilaterally change U.S. law,” and it provides “that any provision of a trade agreement inconsistent with U.S. federal or State law will have no effect.” It makes clear that “U.S. federal and State law prevail in the event of a conflict with a trade agreement.”
  3. “Trade agreements can overturn U.S. laws.”

    For instance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has warned TPA could gut Dodd-Frank, or something. Actually, only Congress can change U.S. law. And Congress will always be sovereign: The TPA bill (unnecessarily but reassuringly) also affirms that “a trade agreement cannot prevent the United States or the States from changing law in the future.”

    Further, the TPA bill reaffirms U.S. law as the ultimate touchstone for U.S. negotiators. For example, the bill instructs U.S. trade negotiators that “provisions of any trade agreement governing intellectual property rights that is entered into by the United States reflect a standard of protection similar to that found in United States law.”
  4. TPA and trade agreements could lead to unchecked immigration.

    According to Dick Morris—a pundit with nine lives and ever-shifting principles—“Congress could lose the power to control immigration policy” if TPA is passed and new trade agreements go forward: “We could find ourselves back in the era before there were restrictions on immigration and anyone from anywhere could come to our shores.”

    This is balderdash. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) calls this an “urban legend.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) agrees, reminding his colleagues: “No one has been more vocal than me in their criticism of the Obama Administration’s attempt to unconstitutionally rewrite our immigration laws through the grant of administrative legalization to millions of unlawful aliens. There is nothing in the current draft of the TPP that will in any way advance or facilitate this or any other unconstitutional action by the Administration.”
  5.  “Trade agreements are ‘anti-dentite.’” 

    OK, this charge is about 10 years old, but we’re half hoping it will resurface at any moment. The concern, apparently, is that trade agreements will weaken dental licensing or qualification standards in U.S. states because of provisions in the agreement calling on countries to make those criteria objective and transparent. Of course, this charge is baseless, but it’s a great excuse to watch this old Seinfeld clip.

About the Author

About the Author

Senior Vice President for International Policy

Murphy directs the U.S. Chamber’s advocacy relating to international trade and investment policy.