[Excerpt] When Congress passed the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act (RTAA) of 1934, it reflected an important transition in “national trade policy” away from “protectionism” toward greater “trade liberalization.” This shift continues to be the dominant, but hardly uncontested, trade policy of the United States. The substantial national gains from trade have long been recognized, yet trade liberalizing legislation often faces strong political opposition because related costs, although much smaller, affect a vocal and concentrated constituency. Congress first addressed this inherent tension with legislation that allowed for the reimposition of tariffs and other trade barriers when domestic industries were threatened or hurt by imports. In 1962, however, Congress adopted an additional approach by providing trade adjustment assistance (TAA) directly to trade-affected firms and workers. It remains a controversial pillar of U.S. trade policy today.
This report discusses the role of TAA in U.S. trade policy, from its inception as a legislative option in the early 1950s, to its core role as an alternative to import relief that many argue has served to promote the long-term U.S. trade liberalization agenda. It will also consider the extent to which TAA has been linked to both renewal of trade agreements authority, and passage of trade agreement implementing legislation. TAA has become an integral part of an increasingly complex U.S. trade policy. Understanding the origins of TAA, the historical congressional debate, and legislative options considered by Congress over the past 50 years may help inform the current discussion of TAA reauthorization.