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Actions taken by the Obama administration this week indicate that the White House is working to obtain congressional approval of the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership as soon as possible in 2016 and does not want to delay a vote until after national elections next November. However, initial reactions from key lawmakers and others indicate that reaching this goal is not a foregone conclusion.
The big questions now are what exactly the biggest free trade agreement ever negotiated contains and when its benefits will take effect.
The TTIP talks had lagged as the U.S. focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that agreement was concluded in early October. U.S. chief negotiator Dan Mullaney said the U.S. wants to achieve a “similarly high quality agreement” with the EU and is working to finish negotiations before the end of President Obama’s presidency in January 2017.
A recent World Trade Organization report finds that the application of new trade restrictions by G-20 member countries remained stable for the period mid-May through mid-October after decelerating slightly over the previous six months. However, the WTO noted that the stockpile of such measures continues to grow and that the uncertain global economic outlook continues to have a negative impact on international trade.
U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman and Minister of Commerce and Industry of India Nirmala Sitharaman gathered in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29 for the ninth ministerial-level meeting of the India-U.S. Trade Policy Forum. According to a joint statement, the two governments reviewed substantive progress achieved this year in deepening bilateral trade and investment goals and discussed planned engagement for next year that can promote economic growth and job creation in both countries.
Effective Dec. 29, the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is significantly increasing many of the fees charged, and adding two new fees, for conducting agricultural quarantine and inspection services at U.S. ports of entry. APHIS said the higher fees are needed to meet program costs that have skyrocketed along with international cargo and passenger traffic, but affected industry members have expressed concern at the size of the increases and their effects on commerce and consumers.
The Trade Facilitation Agreement that World Trade Organization members concluded in 2013 “is global trade's equivalent of the shift from dial-up Internet access to broadband” and could have a bigger impact on international trade than the elimination of all remaining tariffs, according to the WTO’s annual World Trade Report. The TFA will take effect once it has been ratified by two-thirds (approximately 126) of the WTO’s 191 members, and Pakistan recently became the 51st to take this step.
The Department of Transportation has posted on its website for public comment a draft National Freight Strategic Plan that aims to describe the U.S. freight transportation system and future demands on it; identify major corridors and gateways; assess physical, institutional and financial barriers to improvement; and specify best practices for enhancing the system.
The U.S. and Pakistan recently announced steps to further increase two-way trade and investment. These steps, outlined below, augment a joint action plan rolled out in May 2014 that focused on issues such as diversifying agricultural production, promoting intellectual property protection, implementing the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement, and seeking Pakistan’s accession to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement.
Least-developed countries circulated at the World Trade Organization this week a proposal to reform preferential rules of origin for LDCs in an effort to help them take better advantage of duty-free, quota-free treatment by many of the world’s economies. The proposal could be part of a package of initiatives for LDCs that WTO members are likely to focus on at their Dec. 15-18 ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., now appears likely to replace John Boehner, R-Ohio, as Speaker of the House. That change will set off a series of moves that, although unlikely to have a significant effect on trade policy, could have an impact on the fate of trade-related legislation over the coming year, including the customs reauthorization bill that is still awaiting a House-Senate conference.
In its semiannual report on foreign exchange rate policies released Oct. 19, the Treasury Department appeared cautiously optimistic about the valuation of the Chinese yuan against the dollar but critical of continued exchange rate intervention by Korea. The report again determined that none of the United States’ major trading partners is manipulating its exchange rate to gain an unfair trade advantage.