A rare chance for a show of bi-partisanship in Washington could have tremendous benefits to the tri-counties economy.
We are speaking about reauthorization of so-called “Fast Track” authority, which allows the executive branch to negotiate trade deals and submit them to Congress for an up and down vote. The up and down vote effectively bars legislators from adding a Christmas tree of conditions to trade deals, giving the White House wide latitude to negotiate deals.
President Obama has signaled to Senate leaders that he will make reauthorization of Fast Track, which expired in 2007, a priority. He can count on support from the pro-business group of Republicans and moderate Democrats but this is no slam dunk. The President told the Business Roundtable in an early December talk that he’s aware that factions within his own party are the biggest stumbling blocks to reauthorization this year.
Fast Track matters to the region for several reasons. First, with the White House pushing a new Trans-Pacific Partnership for trade, there is every reason to believe that exports of Central Coast citrus, wines and other agricultural products would soar if expanded trade opportunities were presented. The Port of Hueneme would potentially reap great benefits.
There is a second, broader trade deal with the European Union on the table. With Europe at or close to recession, a trade breakthrough could give consumers across the pond a chance for bargains and a rising European tide would greatly help Central Coast tourism. We continue to depend heavily on European tourists, particularly in the slow winter season.
Finally, trade is one area where union and environmental factions within the Democratic Party should negotiate the best deal they can and not stand in the way of a key part of the Obama legacy. Back in the day, unions opposed Fast Track because it meant the shipment of textile and other factory jobs overseas—that ship has already sailed. Environmentalists fear that trade deals will not include enough restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions—but they ignore the administration’s offer to put environmental and labor standards up front as pre-conditions to negotiation with other countries.
President Obama has a rare opportunity to work with GOP leaders in the Senate to pass renewed Fast Track authority, which has been granted to presidents of both parties. Renewal would be a terrific opportunity to advance agriculture, manufacturing, travel and tourism on the Central Coast.