Why Certain Trade Agreements Are Approved as Congressional-Executive Agreements Rather Than as Treaties [November 3, 2011] [open pdf - 222KB]
"U.S. trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), World Trade Organization agreements, and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) have been approved by majority vote of each house rather than by two-thirds vote of the Senate-that is, they have been treated as congressional-executive agreements rather than as treaties. The congressional-executive agreement has been the vehicle for implementing Congress's long-standing policy of seeking trade benefits for the United States through reciprocal trade negotiations. In a succession of statutes, Congress has authorized the President to negotiate and enter into tariff and nontariff barrier (NTB) agreements for limited periods, while permitting NTB and free trade agreements negotiated under this authority to enter into force for the United States only if they are approved by both houses in a bill enacted into public law and other statutory conditions are met; implementing bills are also accorded expedited consideration under the scheme. Congress most recently granted the President temporary trade negotiating authority utilizing this approach in the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002 (BTPAA), contained in Title XXI of the Trade Act of 2002, P.L. 107-210. Although the authority expired during the 110th Congress, agreements entered into before July 1, 2007, remained eligible for congressional consideration under the expedited procedure. The President had entered into free trade agreements with Colombia, Korea, and Panama before this date, each of which awaited congressional approval at the time. In October 2011, Congress approved the three pending agreements, making a total of 11 free trade agreements approved under the BTPAA process."
CRS Report for Congress, 97-896