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With the Senate approving fast track negotiating authority for the president in the wee hours today, it’s an ideal time to take stock of where Mr. Obama’s trade agenda stands.

First, the fast track debate now heads to the House of Representatives, which has always been more resistant to the trade strategies pursued by America for at least two decades. Campaign finance dynamics largely explains why: Since Senate seats are state-wide offices, they’re much more expensive to win that House seats, and therefore big money is especially important. And America’s big money loves job- and growth-killing trade deals.

Second, largely as a result, just in terms of political score-keeping, the Senate’s endorsement is no big deal. In fact, the only real suspense came on a vote on a measure that would have required any trade deals submitted to Congress to contain enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation. It was defeated, but only by a 51-48 vote. At the same time, the details of this issue speak volumes about how un-seriously even well-intentioned American leaders handle trade issues.

As I’ve explained before, even the measure offered by Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and his Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan would have done nothing to solve this problem. Why not? There’s no global anti-currency manipulation consensus (and indeed, many countries are determined to either use it or retain the option). Moreover, future U.S. trade deals, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are likely to include majoritarian dispute-resolution systems just like their predecessors. Therefore, any American complaints filed under the new regimes can be expected to go exactly nowhere.

But let’s give supporters of the amendment the benefit of the doubt and just assume that they hadn’t had time to think this far ahead. This shortcoming could be entirely forgivable given how vehemently and for how long the opposition, led by President Obama and Congress’ Republican leaders, has rejected effective responses to currency manipulation. It would still be anything but clear why so many Portman-Stabenow backers wound up favoring the fast track bill once the currency provision went down – including Portman himself, who had warned colleagues that without his measure, “In one week, through currency exchanges, you can undo years of benefits in terms of reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers in a trade agreement.”

Another example of how fundamentally inane the fast track debate has become concerns the economically tangential, but of course morally abhorrent, issue of human trafficking. The subject was injected into trade policy and politics by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who offered an amendment that would bar Congress from using fast track procedures for any trade deals with countries officially accused by Washington of egregious human trafficking records. TPP first-round member Malaysia falls into this category.

Even though the Obama administration regarded it as a TPP-killer, the Menendez measure passed the fast track- and offshoring-friendly Senate Finance Committee by a strong bipartisan 16-10 vote. Fast track supporters evidently were counting on weakening it enough to make it acceptable to the White House and to the Malays, but somehow the full-strength Menendez amendment survived and was included in the final trade legislation. It’s easy to see how fixing what fast track backers insist is a major problem could push the bill’s journey through Congress further into the intensifying 2016 presidential campaign cycle, and thus threaten its chances.

But the Malaysia trafficking fight is noteworthy in at least three other respects, too. First, it’s as vulnerable to nullification by TPP members as the Portman-Stabenow currency measure. Second, it’s also vulnerable to nullification by President Obama, who could in principle appease the Malaysians and others simply by certifying that their trafficking record has improved. But even if these two propositions were not true, the Malaysia ruckus reveals a third fast track and TPP-related complication that looks especially damaging to their supporters. For it belies sweeping claims by the president and his trade policy supporters that the TPP is creating high, enforceable standards in areas like labor rights and environmental protection.

If the president is right (and I’ve explained why, for separate reasons, he isn’t), then TPP will serve as “the most progressive trade deal in history” because its social and human rights and ecological and other requirements will be strong enough to require violators to change their ways – presumably by threatening them with the loss of trade preferences created by the agreement. But according to fast track backers, including the president, Malaysia is not only not preparing to clean up its human trafficking act. It’s threatening to torpedo the whole TPP if the measure survives. And judging by these expressed fears, it’s succeeding. If according to Mr. Obama, Malaysia feels free to resist a TPP rule on a practice that is in effect the toleration of slavery, why won’t other developing countries feel equally free to resist TPP rules in much more (legitimately) controversial areas, like appropriate levels of worker rights and environmental protection in developing countries?

The continuing irony surrounding the fate of fast track and TPP is that the Obama trade agenda is so misbegotten that it could well fail in the House without critics raising any of the above contradictions. But beyond the immediate future, they’re important because they make clear that even if many fast track opponents succeed in reshaping American trade policy to reflect their stated priorities, the resulting new agreements would damage the U.S. and world economies as much as their predecessors. Much more radical surgery on this policy front is needed. If fast track’s defeat doesn’t spotlight that need, American leaders will have missed an all-too-rare opportunity to help foster genuine, because sustainable, growth nationally and globally.

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