Who has the ball? Who has the advantage? Afflicted with a mild case of seasonal college basketball “madness”, an image I captured earlier this week on the way to a trade policy discussion near Capitol Hill had me thinking “Possession Arrow: House of Representatives”. But the more I thought about it, my mind found a landing zone near the fact the Congress holds a permanent advantage over the Executive in international trade relations. While the President negotiates with foreign nations, the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) specifically charges Congress with regulating commerce with them.
But Congress should tell the President in advance what they want to see in any trade agreements that might be negotiated, right? This means that if Congress never says what it requires, then market-opening trade agreements don’t happen. Under this scenario, NEMA companies and workers lose out on sales opportunities that will instead go to foreign competitors, who are not standing around waiting for the U.S. to come to play.
What we have now on Capitol Hill on trade appears to be a held-ball situation, with talks continuing since 2012 about how to consider first the potential results of negotiations with 11 Asia-Pacific countries willing to open their markets to the U.S. and each other. In most basketball leagues, a held-ball situation turns the crowd’s eyes toward the possession arrow – to see who will get the ball next. But in the case of trade agreements, a held ball means there is no game. Capitol Hill talks continue on issues analogous to whether Congress could accept the shape, color and air pressure of the ball, the size of the court, how many fouls are allowed per team, etc. These are important issues to be decided, yes. However, some big competitors are waiting to write their own rules of the game. A continuing Hill stalemate means trade negotiators are left with uncertainty while NEMA companies and workers face the prospect of fewer, rather than greater, opportunities to compete, win international sales, and support U.S. jobs.
Congress will return to Washington in mid-April. Before time runs out, seize the opportunity to let your Members of Congress know why trade is important to your company.