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By Lori Wallach, published April 2013

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress writes the laws and sets trade policy. And so it was for 200 years. Over the last few decades, presidents have seized both of those powers through a mechanism known as Fast Track.

Because Fast Track’s dramatic shift in the balance of powers between branches of government occurred via an arcane procedural mechanism, it obtained little scrutiny – until recently. Its use by Democratic and Republican presidents alike to seize Congress’ constitutional prerogatives, “diplomatically legislate” non-trade policy, and internationally preempt state policy, has made it increasingly controversial.

Fast Track facilitated controversial pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which extend beyond traditional tariff-cutting to set constraints on domestic financial, energy, patents and copyright, food safety, immigration and other policies.

“Rise and Fall” explores the process of designing U.S. trade agreements from 1789 to the present. Congress’ last delegation of Fast Track terminated in 2007.

At issue is what negotiating and approval process can best secure prosperity for the greatest number of Americans, while preserving the vital tenets of American democracy and our constitutional checks and balances in the era of globalization. The outcome of this perennial power struggle between Congress and the president will play out again starting in 2013, shaping our futures.

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Reviews of the 2009 Edition

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio): "If you wonder why trade policy over the past several years has reflected such narrow interests, look no further than the imbalanced trade policymaking process that is Fast Track... Read this informed and engaging account of Fast Track's history and take action."

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine): "This book provides the lessons of 233 years of American trade authority history to inform Congress's efforts to create... a new trade negotiating mechanism."

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