Legislative Update: TPA, Trade Secrets, Federal Agency Funding
Congress has remained fairly quiet on trade issues over the past few weeks, although there have been some hopeful signs from both inside and outside of the Capitol. The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees both conducted hearings on President Obama’s 2014 trade agenda, but other than trade promotion authority neither of those hearings featured much discussion of potential legislative action on trade issues. Highlights of other recent developments include the following.
Congressional Trade Agenda. A March 25 letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp states that Ways and Means intends to consider trade promotion authority legislation; continue work toward passage of the miscellaneous trade bill; continue work toward consideration of legislation to authorize U.S. Customs and Border Protection, streamline and facilitate legitimate and compliant trade at the border, automate CBP processes and improve enforcement; and address the expiration of key aspects of U.S. trade preference programs. However, few of those topics were discussed in Ways and Means’ or Senate Finance’s hearings on the trade agenda, which instead focused largely on trade negotiations and enforcement.
At the May 1 Senate Finance hearing Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the failure to renew TPA “creates a serious and perhaps fatal flaw in the president’s trade agenda” because “I do not believe you can conclude high-standard agreements that will meet Congress’ approval without TPA.” (He also opined that such agreements will be unlikely unless the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative more effectively plays its “traditional role as a bulwark against other federal agencies” that are wary of trade liberalization measures.) USTR Mike Froman said the administration supports TPA legislation that reflects modern issues and garners bipartisan support. Press sources indicate that Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been gathering information from fellow senators on how the TPA bill introduced earlier this year by Camp and Hatch might be improved to secure congressional approval. However, most observers still hold that any significant movement on TPA is unlikely before a post-election session of Congress this November.
Froman also urged Congress to “expeditiously” renew authorization of the Generalized System of Preferences, which expired in July 2013. President Obama recently announced his intent to remove Russia as a GSP beneficiary, clearing away one obstacle to reinstating GSP, although others remain.
Trade Secrets. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced April 29 legislation that they said would create the first federal private right of action for the theft of trade secrets. The Defend Trade Secrets Act (S. 2267) aims to help combat the loss of an estimated $160 billion to $480 billion each year in the United States to the theft of corporate trade secrets, and Coons said it will “finally give trade secrets the same legal protections that other forms of critical intellectual property already enjoy.” Among other things, this bill (a) builds on the Economic Espionage Act to create a uniform national standard for civil remedies for trade secret misappropriation and (b) provides for injunctions and damages to preserve evidence, prevent disclosure and account for the economic harm to U.S. companies whose trade secrets are stolen.
Trade Agency Funding. The House Appropriations Committee approved May 8 legislation that would appropriate the following fiscal year 2015 funding amounts for trade-related federal agencies (figures below compared to FY 2014 spending levels).
- $8.35 billion for the Department of Commerce, up $171 million
- $463 million for the International Trade Administration, up 0.5%
- $103.5 million for the Bureau of Industry and Security, up 2%
- $53.5 million for USTR, up 1.7%
- $84.5 million for the International Trade Commission, up 1.8%
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. 4432 – to establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients and give the Food and Drug Administration sole authority to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients (introduced April 9 by Rep. Pompeo, referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce)
HR. 4475 – to allow the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of investigational drugs and devices intended for use by terminally ill patients who execute an informed consent document (introduced April 10 by Rep. Griffith, referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce)
H.R. 4476 – to require ingredient labeling for domestic, commercial and institutional cleaning products (introduced April 10 by Rep. Israel, referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce)