The Battle Over Trade Authority: Congress vs. the Executive Branch

The recent conflict between the Congress and the executive branch over the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade is an essential issue for U.S trade policy. The executive branch has argued that trade agreements do not require congressional approval, causing the Congress to pass a bill that approved the first phase of the U.S.-Taiwan deal while enhancing transparency in ongoing negotiations. This bill is an essential first step in getting U.S trade policy back on track as it establishes parameters for trade negotiations and ensures any agreement reached is durable and not subject to the changing whims of different administrations.

It is crucial to note that TEAs, negotiated by the executive branch with minimal congressional input or oversight, have brought this issue back into focus. More than 1,200 agreements have been inked with 130 countries, and the Joe Biden administration’s signature trade initiative, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), is also a TEA. While TEAs subvert Congress’s power in favor of presidential power, Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and there is little doubt it can take action to restrict the executive branch’s trade authority.

The recently passed United States-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade First Agreement Implementation Act offers a corrective to executive overreach on trade. It embeds TPA principles of transparency and consultations with Congress into future negotiations with Taiwan and ensures that any agreement reached with Taiwan will be durable and not subject to the changing whims of different administrations.

The approval of the Taiwan deal has implications for U.S trade policy as Congress could pursue similar legislation with respect to the IPEF and other negotiations. This will indicate economic priorities for the executive branch and demand high standards on environmental and labor issues. However, this bill raises an important question about the status of other TEAs and could irk U.S. trading partners wary of inked deals that lack similar congressional approval.

It remains unclear whether the Biden administration will fully comply with the legislation, but it is crucial to maintain the delicate balance of authority between the executive and legislative branches of government. Biden should welcome Congress’s renewed interest in trade and work with both parties to define the future of U.S trade policy.


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