From 1975 through 1993, five US presidents were granted fast-track trade negotiating authority by the Congress. This authority has enabled them to submit legislation implementing trade agreements to Congress under procedures that assure an up-or-down vote, without amendments, within a limited time period. Congress sets guidelines for the substance of negotiations and requires notification and consultation at key stages. The assurance of prompt congressional action on the results makes it possible for US trade negotiators to speak credibly for the United States.The fast track procedure has proved a remarkable success, making possible the completion of four major trade agreements: the multilateral Tokyo and Uruguay Rounds, the Free Trade Agreement with Canada, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In 1994, however, this authority lapsed, and President Bill Clinton has lacked the ability to deliver on trade-negotiating commitments such as the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Congress is expected to consider his specific fast-track renewal proposal this coming fall.In this timely analysis, Destler analyzes experience with fast-track procedures since their enactment. He comes out strongly in favor of fast-track renewal but argues for changes in the process to curb abuses and ensure that Congress retains the ability to decide on major new trade liberalizing initiatives.
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