Fast-track trade negotiating authority, which largely guarantees congressional votes on trade agreements, has been around since the 1970s. Fast track, however, has proven a divisive issue in recent years and the subject of several heated congressional debates. Congress last granted fast track authority in 2002 and the negotiating authority expired for new agreements during the Bush Administration.
The Obama Administration has made significant progress on a complex Pacific Basin trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership without fast-track authority. It remains to be seen, however, if the negotiations can be concluded or the agreement approved by Congress without a new grant of fast-track authority. For his part, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also expressed an interest in launching new trade agreements and fast track. Discussions have already quietly begun in Congress and in the business community on possible new legislation.
This article discusses the principles of fast-track negotiating authority, whether this authority is necessary to conduct trade agreements, the benefits to both executive and legislative branches of government and a look ahead at the possible debate over fast-track negotiating authority in 2013.