If Fast Track Passes, Anything Attached to a "Trade" Treaty Will Pass
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by Gaius Publius
We recently discussed the "Fast Track" method by which Dodd-Frank legislation can be overturned without going through anything like the normal Congressional process. Under Fast Track, "trade" bills cannot be filibustered in the Senate, can't be amended in either house, are subject to limited debate and must receive a simple up-or-down vote.
As Russ Feingold says, it's a rigged process.
The method that could be used to overturn Dodd-Frank — attach the rollback requirement to a "trade" treaty negotiated by the president alone, then fast-track it through Congress — could also be used to move anything though Congress, so long as it can be attached to a trade treaty, even a bilateral one between the U.S. and just one other country. Any other country. Togo. Nauru.
How to Fast-Track a Law You Don't Like
Let's take a hypothetical example. Say some U.S. president receives large campaign contributions from the imported meat industry — that's a pretty big industry, by the way, so they have lots of what it takes to make large contributions with.
Now let's say — in a completely unrelated development — this industry wanted to sweeten CEO income and industry sales by asking the U.S. president to get rid of "country-of-origin labeling" laws (called COOL in the world of acronyms). The thinking goes like this:
- Many countries, like China, have weaker meat inspection laws than the U.S.
- That makes their beef and pork cheaper to import and sell.
- This means more profit for the importers.
- But consumers are suspicious of imported meat, because they know about the inspection problem.
- This means less profit for the importers.
- So ... just make it illegal to tell people where any meat is from.
Fast Track legislation (so far) always "sunsets" (expires). This one is written to expire in three years, but could be renewed for another three. Simon Johnson thinks if this Fast Track bill passes, its renewal for the full six years is nearly certain; he notes that "terms of renewal are almost automatic."
Six years is a fairly large window within which to make a president queen of all she surveys, so long as she can put it in a "trade" treaty.
Those Country-of-Origin Labeling Laws ... They're Already Gone
Actually I was being playful with my hypothetical "country-of-origin labeling" example. Those laws already exist, and they're already set for repeal because of the trade treaty that established the WTO. From Food Safety News:
WTO Rejects U.S. Appeal of COOL RulingAccording to Politico (no link; subscription required):
The World Trade Organization has rejected a U.S. appeal of its decision that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on meat unfairly discriminates against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat products.
The final ruling launches a WTO process to determine the level of retaliatory tariffs Canada and Mexico can impose on the U.S., and the U.S. will have to revise or repeal the COOL law in order to avoid such sanctions. Opponents of COOL are hoping for a swift repeal, while proponents are saying it’s not yet time to act.
The WTO report released in October was the second time that body has ruled against the U.S. in the dispute. After passing mandatory COOL rules in 2008, the U.S. amended COOL in 2012 following an earlier WTO ruling against it.
Last November, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the 2014 National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention that there is no additional regulatory fix for COOL that would be consistent with U.S. law as it exists and would also satisfy the WTO.
The WTO announced Monday morning that its seven-member Appellate Body found that a previous panel — investigating whether the U.S. had implemented a 2012 ruling on COOL — was mostly correct in its finding that the regulations give United States livestock producers an unfair advantage over producers from Canada and Mexico when it comes to doing business in the United States by imposing extra costs associated with separating animals. ...Domestic meat suppliers want the laws in place, but importers don't and Congress is eager to respond to the WTO requirement — all in the name of "free" trade. This is what critics like Elizabeth Warren mean when they talk about "loss of sovereignty." Repeal of these laws could happen before Memorial Day, according to the rest of the article. Who said DC was gridlocked?
Geneva, Canada and Mexico will most likely act quickly to ask that arbitrators work to determine how much they can retaliate based on their losses, most likely by raising tariffs. A panel would then have 60 days to set the amount, though the two sides will likely discuss a settlement to preclude that from happening.
That means the United States has at least two months to determine its next course of action. However, for his part, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway said he is “not interested in waiting on the next step.”
Conaway said last week he plans to introduce a bill soon after the ruling to do away with USDA’s COOL requirements for beef, pork and poultry, saying he will introduce it “just as quickly as we can to get it out of legislative counsel.”
Anti-TPP Rep. Mark Pocan's statement in response (my emphasis):
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02) issued the following statement on today¹s final ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) against a popular U.S. country-of-origin meat labeling (COOL) policy, which requires labeling of pork and beef sold in the United States to inform consumers the country in which the animals were born, raised and slaughtered:"Today's ruling is not subject to further appeal," not in a U.S. court nor in any appeals court higher than the WTO. This could happen to any law attached to any trade treaty under Fast Track.
“Today's ruling is a clear example of how bad trade agreements hurt America's sovereignty and weaken consumer and environmental policies enacted to protect our health and well-being. From the roll back of U.S. Clean Air Act regulations to altered auto fuel efficiency standards and even possible changes to our financial regulations, bad trade deals negotiated in secret have consistently shown why it is important to get trade agreements done right, not fast.
“With the Trans-Pacific Partnership encompassing more than 40 percent of the world¹s economy we have to get it right and ensure we do not put the health and safety of the American people at risk. Congress should not grant fast track authority and rubber stamp the largest trade deal since NAFTA, when we don¹t know enough about the TPP and its potential consequences on our communities.”
The COOL policy was created when Congress enacted mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat in the 2008 farm bill and was signed in to law by President George W. Bush. Today’s ruling is not subject to further appeal.
And lest we forget, recall where the original example got started — with the hypothetical push-for-profit of some industry leaders and their ability to ... "discuss" their concerns with the president ahead of a trade deal.