What is the Importance of Trade Adjustment Assistance?

Francisco A. Laguna & Rolanzo White

After months of an internal Democratic battle, which pit House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi against President Barack Obama, Congress passed the Trade Promotion Authority bill (“TPA”) which will give the president a “fast track” to negotiate deals with foreign nations. The TPA is characterized as “fast track” authority because it gives the president the ability to negotiate trade deals with foreign states without interference from Congress. Legislators can only vote yes or no when these deals reach the floor.

"A hot June summer afternoon on Capitol Hill. (9136720373)" by USCapitol - A hot June summer afternoon on Capitol Hill.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“A hot June summer afternoon on Capitol Hill. (9136720373)” by US Capitol. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

For months, the TPA was the center of a debate among Democrats: whether to give the president this authority; or to demand a part in trade negotiations. Republicans supported the bill because they saw it as necessary for promoting the recently agreed-to Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”). Rand Paul believes that the bill actually affords Congress more control over the negotiations and the last word. Even with the divide in the Democratic Party, on June 24, 2015, Senate Republicans gathered the 60 votes needed to pass the TPA with the help of 13 democrats.

The TPA certainly facilitated the negotiation of the TPP, an agreement among Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. All potential member states required the passage of the TPA to ease their fear that Congress would overturn the agreement after a deal was struck. President Obama and proponents of the bill advocate that the TPP will lower the cost of imported goods, open overseas opportunities for America businesses and establish the first American trade agreement with Japan. Those who oppose the TPP, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, fear it will kill jobs in the US and give the president too much unilateral power in trade negotiations.

"US Dept of Labor" by Ed Brown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“US Dept of Labor” by Ed Brown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

As a way to protect people that may lose their job as a result of trade agreements, Congress voted to reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance (“TAA”) program through 2020 and renew the program’s 2009-2010 eligibility and benefit levels. Democrats believe that Congress needed pass the TAA to assist those hurt by job loss.


The TAA program is a federally funded program that provides necessary assistance for workers, with no cost to employers, whose jobs are lost or threatened due to trade-related circumstances as determined by a Department of Labor investigation. The TAA program provides assistance to eligible workers in the form of reemployment services, training, job search, relocation, and support benefits in the form of Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA) and / or Alternative/Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance (ATAA/RTAA) for older workers. The Department of Labor estimates that since 1975 over two million workers have relied on the TAA program to receive benefits to make ends meet and obtain the training necessary to find new jobs.

"Vincent Thomas Bridge aerial view" by United States Coast Guard, PA3 Louis Hebert - U.S. Coast Guard Visual Information Gallery. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Vincent Thomas Bridge aerial view” by United States Coast Guard, PA3 Louis Hebert – U.S. Coast Guard Visual Information Gallery. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In response to the TPA decision, the US Conference of Mayors voiced their support for the bill and urged congress to pass the TAA as well. Newly appointed US Conference of Mayors (USCM) President, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, issued the following statement: “The nation’s mayors now call on Congress to pass reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance that will provide resources to US workers who may need re-training and employment services due to foreign competition. TAA has helped over 2.2 million workers since its inception and is an important safety net for them.”

As trade agreements like the TPP and the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership are negotiated and implemented, it will be interesting to contrast the number of workers who require TAA assistance with overall trade numbers to determine whether fast track negotiating authority is, indeed, worthwhile.

TransLegal is available to answer questions concerning regional and other trade agreements as well as the availability of benefits under the TAA.