FTAs & the TPA deadline

Now that the WTO negotiations are taking a “time out,” as Pascal Lamy has characterized the suspension of scheduled talks, the attention of both analysts and policymakers will shift to bilateral and regional trade deals. The United States has eleven months to complete its FTAs before Bush’s trade promotion authority expires.

I’m told that, by law, the President is merely required to notify Congress of his intent to sign an FTA 30 days prior to voting on it (and therefore 30 days prior to the expiration of his authority). The actual, signed agreement can be submitted at any time. [UPDATE: There are additional notification obligations, which are outlined in this CRS report.] But for logistical and political reasons, the administration won’t abuse that flexibility by waiting until the last minute. It’s hoping to wrap up trade talks by the end of 2006 so that it can introduce legislation to Congress around March.

Talks are underway with Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand, though the latter stalled earlier this year. Ben Muse has set up a page to track the development of the US-Korea deal. Estimates of the likelihood of completing these agreements on time vary.

Of course, there’s not much reason to worry about the timetable if Congress renews TPA. Richard Baldwin comments on my prior post, suggesting that Congress will not want to lose the “competitive liberalization” race with the EU and therefore will extend the president’s negotiating authority. Most analysts seem to be leaning the other way:

America’s top trade official says the collapse of global trade talks means the US presidential trade deal authority will now likely expire, before any WTO deal can be saved and sent to the US Congress… The last time the TPA expired in the mid-90s it took about eight years to renew it, which many pro-trade lawmakers fear could happen again, leaving the US unable to negotiate even bilateral deals. [abc.net.au]

The White House’s authority from the US Congress to negotiate trade deals expires next year. Most experts and officials think Congress unlikely to renew that authority, rendering any near-term agreement impossible. [Finfacts]

Without the so-called ’fast-track’ authority, which Congress is seen as unlikely to renew, Washington is in effect unable to negotiate international trade deals. [Reuters]

Of course, noting popular opinion without explaining why many people hold that view isn’t terribly convincing. Most newspaper accounts aren’t giving a very good account of the political factors in play.

I haven’t strongly committed to an opinion on the subject, but at this point I am not expecting TPA renewal. First, Jagdish Bhagwati previously commented that making progress at Doha was key to any bid for renewal so as to demonstrate to the Congress that value of granting TPA. Second, Chuck Grassley told Pascal Lamy it won’t happen.

What other evidence is available on this question?