Congress Moves to Reclaim Constitutional Authority Over Commerce and Duties

The House of Representatives will soon vote on the United States-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade First Agreement Implementation Act (H.R. 4004). The bill was introduced by U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) and Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-MA), along with U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID).

The first agreement in the United States-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade was signed on June 1. The 75-page agreement’s goals include facilitating bilateral trade and investment flows between the United States and Taiwan. Future agreements may cover areas including agriculture, digital trade, and labor and environmental standards. 

According to Ways and Means Chairman Smith, “When it comes to trade, we are speaking with one voice that this administration, or any future administration for that matter, must not circumvent Congress or the Constitution, and that the President does not have the authority to bind the United States in trade agreements without congressional involvement and approval.” And according to Finance Committee Ranking Member Crapo, “This legislation proves that Congress can—and will—lead on trade, and that it cannot be bypassed.”

Specifically, the legislation would implement the recently signed agreement, demonstrating congressional support for expanded trade with Taiwan. In addition, it would provide transparency for future negotiations by requiring that the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) consult with Congress during negotiations and making it clear that any new agreements resulting from the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative would be subject to congressional approval.

The bill also responds to the void left by the expiration of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in 2021. TPA spells out U.S. negotiating objectives and empowers the president to negotiate trade agreements in close consultation with Congress. The Biden administration has not requested authority from Congress to negotiate new agreements. Instead, it has engaged in framework discussions that involve trade, but primarily focus on goals other than market access. This has frustrated not only our trading partners, but also American producers anxious to expand markets for U.S.-made goods and services and Members of Congress who don’t want to see the United States take a back seat on trade.

Congress can’t force the Biden administration to make trade a priority again. But it can provide oversight over administration’s trade-related activities. By approving the United States-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade First Agreement Implementation Act, Congress can take a step toward reclaiming its constitutional authority over international commerce.