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Legislative Update: TPA, Leadership Changes, New Bills

Monday, April 07, 2014
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

What little attention there has been to trade issues in Congress recently has focused on trade promotion authority, though there has been little resembling progress on this issue. Other topics such as renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences, tariff suspensions under the miscellaneous trade bill, and customs reauthorization remain off the radar screens of most lawmakers, and even the introduction of new trade-related legislation has slowed.

Trade Promotion Authority. Legislation to reauthorize TPA, which would allow the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress could approve or reject but not modify, has been the subject of much discussion in the last few months but appears no closer to passage. The bill has suffered from the departure of Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, its sole Democrat co-sponsor, and has been hit with a barrage of opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over concerns on both the form and substance of trade negotiations. The pending retirement of House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (see below), the bill’s highest profile co-sponsor in the House, could deal a further blow to the bill’s prospects. Current Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said he wants to consult with his colleagues on potential changes to the bill before considering it further, but no hearing or other such information-gathering event has yet been held. Some observers say a lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections is the soonest a TPA bill could move.

TPA featured prominently during an April 3 Ways and Means hearing on President Obama’s trade policy agenda. U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman said the White House agrees that TPA needs to be updated and therefore “welcomed” the introduction of the Camp-Baucus bill. However, he also implicitly acknowledged the challenges that measure faces by adding that a final TPA bill should have “as broad bipartisan support as possible.”

Camp responded that “full engagement” from the president and his administration will be necessary to secure approval of TPA, which he said is needed to conclude and implement free trade agreements with Europe and Pacific Rim countries as well as multilateral pacts on services, information technology products and environmental goods. He also argued that his TPA bill “is the strongest in history” and addresses concerns on keeping legislators informed during negotiations and ensuring that final agreements reflect congressional objectives.

Ranking Democrat Sander Levin, however, called the Camp-Baucus bill “deficient.” Lawmakers should be focusing on the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, Levin said, such as ensuring greater market access in Japan, ensuring the protection of worker rights in Vietnam, and addressing issues such as currency manipulation, access to medicine, food safety and state-owned enterprises. The Camp-Baucus bill, Levin posited, “would not effectively guide our negotiators to get these outstanding issues right.”

An April 2 letter from dozens of companies and business organizations to House and Senate trade leaders did not mention the Camp-Baucus bill specifically but said passage of “modernized TPA legislation” is needed to help the U.S. finalize outstanding agreements and thus prevent it from falling behind foreign competitors actively engaged in negotiating bilateral and regional trade agreements of their own.

Trade Committee Leadership. Ways and Means Chairman Camp, who was already slated to step down from that post at the end of this year due to term limits, has announced that he will not run for re-election this November. Camp said that during the remainder of his term he will “redouble” his efforts on tax reform and opening new markets for U.S. goods and services but offered no specific plans. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and former Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, have expressed interest in succeeding Camp. Another slot could open up if current Trade Subcommittee Chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., wins the top post on the House Intelligence Committee.

In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has replaced new Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as head of Finance’s Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness. However, reports that Stabenow’s tenure atop the trade subcommittee could be short-lived if she replaces retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., as the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Health Care.

Other. Following is a list of trade-related legislation that has been introduced recently. The texts of these bills are or will shortly be available on the Library of Congress Web site.

H.R. 4057 – to authorize funding for construction of U.S. Customs and Border Protection customs plazas at land ports of entry (introduced Feb. 11 by Rep. Peters, referred to the House committees on Homeland Security and Ways and Means)

H.R. 4105 – to replace the Harbor Maintenance Fee with a maritime goods movement user fee to discourage shippers from diverting U.S.-bound goods through Canadian or Mexican ports and increase funding for infrastructure improvements at U.S. ports (introduced Feb. 27 by Rep. McDermott, referred to the House committees on Transportation and Infrastructure and Ways and Means)

H.R. 4135 – to clarify the standard required for the importation of sporting arms into the United States so that the same type of firearms that are legal to manufacture and sell in the U.S. may be imported as well (introduced Feb. 28 by Rep. Simpson, referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary)

H.R. 4139 – to expedite the permit process to export U.S. natural gas to World Trade Organization countries (introduced March 4 by Rep. Turner, referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce)

H.R. 4155 – to authorize natural gas exports to certain foreign countries (introduced March 5 by Rep. Poe, referred to the House committee on Energy and Commerce and Foreign Affairs)

S. 2120 – to expand the prohibition on the manufacture, distribution and importation of children's products that contain phthalates (introduced March 12 by Sen. Gillibrand, referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation)

H.R. 4242 – to provide for the import of donated fire-fighting and rescue and relief equipment and supplies free of duty and other restrictions for purposes of inspection and subsequent donation and export of such equipment and supplies to countries and organizations in need (introduced March 13 by Rep. Nolan, referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means)

H.R. 4322 – to provide for the payment to affected producers and their employees of duties that are collected pursuant to countervailing and antidumping duty orders (introduced March 27 by Rep. McKinley, referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means)

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