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President’s Trade Policy Agenda Focuses on TPP, Outlines Regional Plans

Monday, March 07, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The Obama administration released this week its 2016 Trade Policy Agenda, which focuses on continuing to pursue trade liberalization while improving enforcement efforts. In a presidential election season that has seen candidates from both sides of the political spectrum decrying past free trade agreements, this agenda calls trade “one of America’s longest-running, bipartisan success stories” and asserts that it is “not in the national interest to sit on the sidelines” at a time when the pace of market-opening initiatives among other countries is increasing.

The report indicates that securing congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which it calls “a central part of the president’s broader economic strategy,” will be a key focus for the administration this year. Other priorities will include using trade policy to encourage foreign investment and manufacturing in the U.S., using preference programs to aid “sustainable, inclusive growth,” strengthening trade and investment partnerships around the world, and enforcing trade agreements.

TPP. Much of the report is spent highlighting the benefits of TPP, which was signed by all 12 member countries in February. However, there is no indication of when implementing legislation might be submitted to Congress. Administration officials have said they would like to take that step as early in the year as possible, but key lawmakers have urged a delay until after presidential and congressional elections in early November.

Other agreements. In 2016 the administration aims to conclude negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement. The report also mentions the Environmental Goods Agreement among World Trade Organization members but gives no estimate for when a deal might be reached.

Labor. The U.S. will continue to pursue an ongoing dispute regarding Guatemala’s failure to effectively enforce its labor laws; engage with the governments of Peru, Mexico, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Hon­duras and the Dominican Republic to advance workers’ rights; and work with the Colombian government to implement the Colombia Ac­tion Labor Rights Plan.

Enforcement. The newly codified Interagency Center on Trade Implementation, Monitoring and Enforcement (previously the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center) will “continue to push further and dig deeper into trade distortions resulting from the complex web of industrial policies and bureaucratic systems of key trading partners like China.”

Bilateral/Regional Initiatives. To create additional bilateral and regional trade and investment opportunities, the administration will pursue the following efforts.

China – seek to ensure the unencumbered exercise of intellectual property rights in China, address China’s excess capacity in key sectors such as steel and aluminum, improve agricultural market access, remove regulatory barriers (especial­ly in the technology sector), ensure that industrial and competition policies do not discriminate or distort markets, increase transparen­cy across all sectors, negotiate a bilateral investment treaty, and secure China’s participation in the WTO Government Procurement Agreement

ASEAN – further intensify engage­ment through U.S.-ASEAN trade workshops under the regional trade and investment framework agreement, and bilaterally with the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cam­bodia, Laos and Burma, to address specific issues and lay the groundwork for ASEAN countries to join high-standard trade agree­ments

Central Asia – build on the work conduct­ed in 2015 under the plurilateral TIFA with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Ta­jikistan and Uzbekistan, focusing particular­ly on WTO membership, customs and pro­curement; advocate for Afghanistan’s full membership to this TIFA and Pakistan’s proposed observership; monitor the actions of the Eurasian Economic Union to ensure that all parties continue to uphold their WTO commitments; and work with Nepal under the bilateral TIFA, focusing on trade facilitation and trade prefer­ences

Americas – work with CAFTA-DR partners to address outstanding issues related to IPR, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, worker rights and environmental protections; deepen trade and investment policy engagement with Brazil through the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation; engage with Argentina to explore ways to deepen economic ties; work in the WTO and bilaterally to explore ways to deepen trade relations with Cuba and, if conditions are right, advance the normalization of those relations

Africa – work with Congress, stakeholders and African partners to begin to identify ways to move relations with sub-Saharan African countries beyond the African Growth and Opportunity Act; submit to Congress in late June a report identifying those SSA countries that might be ready to negotiate an FTA with the U.S.; work with the East African Community to promote cooperation in areas like trade facilitation, SPS measures and technical barriers to trade and explore a possible regional investment treaty

Middle East/North Africa – seek to craft and pursue initiatives that can help lay the groundwork for greater economic integration among MENA countries

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