In late June, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Trade Promotion Authority into law, ostensibly to give himself more leeway in negotiating international trade deals.
The bill, also referred to as a ‘fast-track’, means that Congress will only have the power to either approve or reject the trade deal as presented by the President, and not amend them. When Congress had the power to amend trade deals, trade negotiations were more difficult and required several rounds of negotiations and delays.
The ripple-effect of the TPA
The president sought this power as his administration participates in negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a trade deal that will include 11 other countries: Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand.
These nations are responsible for 40% of world trade, with a collective population of around 800 million people – twice the size of the European Union’s market, which includes non-EU members Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland.
Passage of the TPA was never a given, with some members of the president’s own Democratic Party openly opposing the measure. The TPA was eventually voted in on June 23.
But the signing of the bill by President Obama on June 29 has caused more than a ripple in U.S. ally Israel.
BDS amendments cause a stir
The TPA contains two amendments which encourage negotiators to prioritize discouraging foreign trading partners from participating in the BDS – boycott, divestment, and sanctions – campaign against Israel.
BDS pressure is particularly high in Europe, as rights groups have protested the plight of Israeli-controlled territories, in particular Gaza and the West Bank, and have leaned heavily on corporations to adopt these measures.
Illinois Representative Peter Roskam, of the Republican Party, lauded the bill, calling it a “historic milestone in the fight against Israel’s enemies.”
America’s opposition to insidious efforts to demonize and isolate the Jewish state is now the law of the land,
“The bipartisan bill enacted today conditions any free trade agreement with the European Union on its rejection of BDS.”
But concerns remain that the language of the bill conflates Israel with Israeli-controlled territories.
Tiptoeing to avoid rankling Israel-controlled territories
The U.S. State Department rushed to clarify that it does not and never has supported Israel’s settlement of territories beyond the borders decided after the 1967 war.
By conflating Israel and ‘Israel-controlled territories’, a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity,
State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a June 30 statement.
“Every U.S. administration since 1967 – Democrat and Republican alike – has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines. This administration is no different. The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.”
Navigating the pro and anti-BDS trends is tricky business, as French telecoms firm Orange learned in June.
Orange CEO, Stephane Richard said in Cairo that he was ready to pull Orange out of a partnership with an Israeli company immediately, even though the partnership was supposed to last until 2025.
Though Richard insisted the remarks were not political, an enormous backlash against his comments and the company forced him to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and emphasize that Orange was not participating in the BDS campaign.
Are trade deals a useful way to address conflict in Israel and the surrounding territories? How do you feel about American inclusion of anti-BDS amendments to the TPA?