Towards a smarter, more progressive approach to trade


These pages have written extensively over the past several months about an important topic: trade. Numerous commentaries and letters of varying levels of veracity have been printed. Unfortunately, while I admire the persistence and attention paid to this topic, the facts have often meandered from the truth.

First off, let’s get one thing straight — any one that has followed my political and business career knows that I am supportive of freer and fairer trade and the benefits it brings to hundreds of thousands of small businesses and workers across the country, including thousands in our own backyard — places like Lightning Eliminators in Boulder, which helps protect buildings from lightning, Shotcrete Technologies in Idaho Springs which makes high-speed nozzles for concrete applications, Pro’s Closet biking supplies in Boulder and Keeton Industries in Wellington which makes probiotics for fish.

It’s simply not fair that products produced in Japan see an average tariff of just 2 to 3 percent when coming into the U.S., yet products like cheese produced in Colorado see Japanese tariffs as high as 600 percent.

Another thing we should get straight: despite my support of freer and fairer trade, I have never supported granting the President so-called carte blanche “fast-track” authority. “Fast Track” authority was the way in which old trade deals were negotiated, and unfortunately, it allowed flawed trade deals to get through Congress. The last version of “fast track” was negotiated in 2014 by centrist Democrat Senator Max Baucus of Montana and died with the end of the 113th Congress.

Recently, a new type of authority was negotiated and released. It was negotiated and co-authored by liberal Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon. It’s different from the previous “fast-track” in significant ways. I call it “smart track” because it’s a smarter approach to trade. President Obama is calling it a “deliberate track.”

The point is that this new trade authority — whatever you call it — mandates that any trade agreement must be fully public for 60 days before the President signs it, which is before the deal is sent to Congress for debate (and we all know how quickly Congress moves). This means any trade agreement will be public and available in full, online, for months before Congress votes. There’s nothing fast about that timeline.

What’s more, the new TPA proposal includes a meaningful way for Congress to “turn off ” bad trade
deals: if members believe that the negotiated trade agreement is not
consistent with the trade objectives and guidelines we gave to the
President, or they do not believe the President consulted with Congress
in the prescribed manner, then Congress can force a “disapproval vote,”
putting the brakes on the trade agreement. This “off switch” was not in
the “fast-track” proposal either.

Smart Track doesn’t just set transparency guidelines and provide an
“off switch.” What Smart Track does is provide a formal mechanism for
Congress to weigh in on what our trade agreements look like. In this
version, Congress says that any trade agreement that the President puts
before Congress must have enforceable labor, environmental and human
rights at its core — not a side agreement as it was with NAFTA. If this
President, or the President that follows, presents a deal to Congress
that doesn’t meet these guidelines, it won’t become law. That’s what
“smart track” ensures.

while I don’t doubt Joel Dyer’s math in a previous column, where he
stated that only 4 percent of text language has changed from previous
versions of TPA, everything that is important to both me and my
constituents is in that 4 percent. These concerns characterize over 90
percent of the correspondence I’ve received on this issue.

concern I want to address head-on, and which these editorial pages have
written on at length, is a component of the trade authority language
that deals with sovereignty. In particular, many of my constituents are
concerned that future trade deals could potentially undermine local
control over laws that regulate public health, the environment, and even
fracking. Any trade agreement that did any of those things would garner
my staunch opposition. Let me be clear, because this is an issue that
is incredibly important to me: I have received personal assurances from
President Obama and his administration that no trade deal can undermine
federal law, state law, local law or our national sovereignty.

assurances are not enough. This is why Smart Track includes language
clarifying binding the President, in no uncertain terms, that trade
deals cannot undermine local laws:

CONFLICT.—No provision of any trade agreement entered 4 into under
section 3(b), nor the application of any such 5 provision to any person
or circumstance, that is incon- 6 sistent with any law of the United
States, any State of 7 the United States, or any locality of the United
States 8 shall have effect. When it comes to legislative language, it
simply doesn’t get any more clear and direct.

addition to the explicit assurance that the treaty won’t override any
laws in our country, I also wanted certainty that no additional rights
were given to any international corporations, referred to here as
“foreign investors” (investing in U.S. operations):

investors in the United States are not accorded greater substantive
rights with respect to investment protections than United States
investors in the United States…” Thus for some of the very same reasons I
did not support fast tracks, I’m supportive of the Smart Tracks TPA
legislation introduced last month. It sets very clear, direct and
enforceable guidelines for the President to engage in trade negotiations
with other countries.

accessible health care to clean energy to minimum wage increases to job
training programs to affordable higher education, President Obama has
consistently been a champion for working families since he entered the
White House six years ago. A smart, progressive trade agreement is part
of that middle-class agenda.

to mention the fact that increased engagement and economic ties through
trade is one of the surest ways of fostering mutual respect and good
will, and ultimately avoiding conflict, a platform I’ve subscribed to
for my entire political career. That’s why I also support ending the
embargo and free trade with Cuba.

Obama said last week, speaking to a crowd in Oregon about his trade
agenda, “we can’t stand on the beaches and stop the global economy at
our shores. We’ve got to harness it on our terms.” I’m doing everything I
can to make sure we’re harnessing the 21st century global economy in a
way that benefits Colorado and protects our environment and human

I believe in
the power of America to do good in the world. If President Obama can
accomplish what he is setting out to do with TPP and what we are
directing him to do in the Smart Tracks — protecting fisheries and
wildlife, banning child labor, protecting habitats, fighting piracy and
theft of intellectual property, ensuring a free and open internet and
increasing market access for made-in-America products in Japan and other
nations — then count me in!