Time to Counter Russia with Trade Expansion

Stephen DeMaura

4/5/2014 12:01:00 AM - Stephen DeMaura

President Obama returned from a major overseas trip last week where he met with many of our European Union (EU) allies at a moment when Russia continues to flex its muscle in the region, recently sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on a high-profile visit to the newly-annexed territory in Crimea.

It’s clear that the need for seamless cooperation between the US and the Europe Union is paramount. And there’s no better way to shore up the transatlantic alliance than by strengthening our economic ties. Already, trade between the United States and the EU accounts for more than 30 percent of trade around the world and generates nearly $3 billion every day.

An agreement currently under negotiation between the US and the EU – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – would remove even more trade barriers and foster closer trade ties between the two continents. The President reiterated his support for this agreement in Brussels last week; unfortunately, he has yet to publicly stand up to some of his biggest political allies who are working to hold up TTIP here at home.

In order to get TTIP and other pending trade agreements moving, the President must be granted Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) by an act of Congress. TPA has been granted to every president since the 1930s, until it expired in 2007. Congress now has a unique opportunity now to pass a retooled TPA for the 21st Century, and bringing the EU and US closer to counter Russian expansionism only makes that aim more important.

Democrats in Congress are some of the most vocal voices in opposition to TPA and trade expansion in general. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier this year that “everyone would be well-advised not to push this right now.” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi went even further, calling pending TPA legislation “out of the question.”

Why would Congressional Democrats seek to slow-track or shoot down legislation that would increase trade with some of our closest allies and create new jobs? One reason is the strong-arm tactics of Big Labor. Union bosses believe their position will be weakened by expanded international trade and they are holding Democratic politicians beholden to their wishes.

Just recently, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Richard Trumka criticized pending trade agreements with the EU and Asia in a speech at the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP), daring to claim that TPA “has failed to evolve with our complex and dynamic global economy.” In fact, the bipartisan TPA legislation currently before Congress aims to bring our trade policies into the 21stCentury and its Big Labor’s archaic protectionism that belongs to the past.

We cannot allow petty politics to sabotage a crucial geopolitical moment. We need to send an unequivocal message to Vladimir Putin and the Russian oligarchs that the United States and the European Union are more committed than ever to our transatlantic alliance. Fostering closer trade ties a clear path to doing just that, as well as stimulating our economy and creating new and better jobs along the way.

It’s time for Democrats in Congress to see beyond their next election and stand up to Big Labor bosses. Passing TPA means more American jobs, solidifying our position as the world’s trade leader and sends a very important message to the Russians, which are goals we can all get behind.