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Customs Bill Finalized; Congress Expected to Approve Soon

Friday, December 11, 2015
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

A House-Senate conference committee reached agreement Dec. 9 on a lengthy customs reauthorization bill focused on improving trade facilitation and enforcement. The bill could be approved by both chambers as early as Dec. 11 and signed into law by the president before the end of the month.

To replace what House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called “impractical, outdated customs and border policies that have hurt American workers and job creators for decades,” the bill reduces paperwork burdens for low-value shipments, U.S. goods returned and drawback; formally establishes U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Centers for Excellence and Expertise; authorizes funds to complete the development and implementation of the Automated Commercial Environment; and permits CBP to establish preclearance operations.

As part of what Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., termed “the strongest package of trade enforcement policies in decades,” the bill gives CBP new responsibilities for acting against the evasion of antidumping and countervailing duties; creates new oversight of trade enforcement by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and establishes the Interagency Center on Trade Implementation, Monitoring, and Enforcement; tightens prohibitions on imports of goods made by convict, forced or indentured labor; creates an early warning system to identify trade surges from unfair trade; and enhances targeting of high-risk shipments.

Among the bill’s other provisions are measures to revise the trade promotion authority law enacted earlier this year with respect to climate change, immigration, human trafficking and illegal fishing; strengthen trade ties with Israel; promote small business exports; make technical corrections related to certain outerwear and footwear; and provide trade preferences for some imports from Nepal.

A Senate-passed provision allowing for the application of countervailing duties to address currency manipulation was dropped in favor of a less-stringent approach to this controversial issue, one of several shortcomings that prompted Ways and Means Ranking Member Sandy Levin, D-Mich., to urge his colleagues to vote against the bill as a whole. Also omitted was a reform of the miscellaneous trade bill process; instead, lawmakers declared their commitment to moving an MTB consistent with House and Senate rules.

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