By Alex Lawson
Law360, New York (December 11, 2014, 1:57 PM ET) — Incoming House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, told Law360 on Wednesday that while Republicans have been pleased with President Barack Obama’s bipartisan approach to a growing slate of trade policy issues next year, the White House will need to ramp up its engagement to ensure optimal results.
Tiberi takes the trade subcommittee gavel from Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., at a crucial time for the U.S. trade agenda. The administration is hoping to close negotiations on the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership and reinstate the president’s long-expired trade promotion authority, or TPA, along with a smattering of lower-profile legislative lifts.
Obama gave a closely watched address to the Business Roundtable last week indicating that he was ready to begin working with Republicans and mollifying the concerns of trade skeptics within his own Democratic ranks, a development that Tiberi viewed as a good first step toward meaningful action.
“We are hopeful, but one speech does not provide enough leadership to get all this done,” Tiberi said. “The trade representative is a very good one and we look forward to working with him. But at the end of the day, it’s got to be the president and he is going to have to show leadership and I think he may on this one.”
Tiberi, a 14-year House veteran who has served on Ways and Means since 2007, said that he will do all he can to make sure the president’s bipartisan sentiments trickle down to the members on his panel and throughout the committee.
“I am big believer in trying to work with the other side,” he said. “Having the president provide leadership on trade — and it appears as though he may — is pretty exciting with a Republican Senate and a Republican House in what is clearly the best opportunity since the president became president to do something on trade.”
The most prominent challenge facing Congress in the trade arena will be the navigation between renewing the TPA and passing the TPP, which will cover 40 percent of global trade once it is struck. TPA, also known as fast-track authority, has been expired since 2007 and is the mechanism by which Congress lays out standards for U.S. trade pacts in exchange for amendment-free votes.
Tiberi, who was a relative newcomer to Capitol Hill when the last TPA bill was passed in 2002, said he knows full well that having TPA in place is best way to ensure that U.S. negotiators can extract the highest-quality offers from their trading partners.
He also reaffirmed the position that he will not lend his support to a final TPP deal if the administration does not first come up with a solution to reinstate TPA with Congress, a stance that was first articulated in a letter from the entire Republican bench of the Ways and Means Committee this summer.
“I think giving authority to persons within the administration to negotiate in the best interests of the United States is the best way to actually get a trade agreement, because there are a lot of complex issues that go into these negotiations both from our perspective and our potential trading partners’ perspective as well,” Tiberi said.
The TPP talks have also been dogged with criticism regarding a lack of transparency and congressional input, most recently from the top Democrat on Ways and Means, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich. Concerns about secrecy have also plagued the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks with the European Union, which recently broke new ground in allowing its lawmakers unprecedented access to certain negotiating texts.
Tiberi said that while lawmakers should always urge the administration to be more forthright about its negotiating efforts, the criticisms of trade agreements as job killers are largely misplaced, as those arguments ignore the jobs created by opening export markets and creating new investment opportunities.
“If the shoe were on the other foot and I were the U.S. trade representative, I wouldn’t necessarily be offended because I think we could always do a better job on the issue of transparency,” he said.
The committee will also be urged to renew the lapsed Generalized System of Preferences and extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allow various imports from developing nations to enter the U.S. duty-free. Tiberi said he was still waiting to consult with the incoming House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to chart the best path forward on those measures.
The reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States will fall under the purview of the House Financial Services Committee, but Tiberi said that he nevertheless expects to take a leading role in extending the bank’s charter before its June 30 expiration.
In recent years, the bank has emerged as a point of controversy among a certain faction of Republican lawmakers who have blasted Ex-Im as doling out “corporate welfare” for multinational corporations that shouldn’t require government assistance to ship overseas.
Tiberi said that even though the bank’s critics, including Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, had valid oppositions, he supported reauthorizing the bank with certain modest reforms in order to keep pace with other nations boosting firms with their own export credit agencies.
“In the context of what really happens in the world, I think we kind of have to get our heads out of the sand and see that we are disadvantaging our employers both large and small if we don’t realize what consequences we give to them if we don’t allow them to compete on a level playing field,” he said.
–Editing by Katherine Rautenberg and Emily Kokoll