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Legislative Update: Baucus to Retire, MTB Reform Bill Introduced

Monday, May 06, 2013
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

While most of the trade-related news from Washington over the last two weeks has come from the White House (see related article in this issue) rather than Capitol Hill, groundwork is being laid for action later this year on a number of issues. For example, supporters are still working to reinstate duty breaks on manufacturing imports and other goods. Also on the radar are trade negotiations with nearly a dozen Asia-Pacific countries and the European Union, which could mean a reauthorization of trade promotion authority later this year.

Baucus Retiring. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced April 23 that he will retire when his current term is up in 2014. Baucus said that until then he will focus his efforts on, among other things, simplifying and improving the tax code and advancing trade liberalization agreements.

Press sources generally agree that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is likely to take over Baucus’ position atop the Finance Committee, which has primary oversight of trade policy. Assuming Democrats retain control of the Senate after the 2014 mid-term elections, that could mean a shift in the committee’s focus with respect to trade. While both senators are well-versed on trade policy topics (Wyden currently chairs the subcommittee on trade and customs issues), Baucus is a more vocal proponent of trade liberalization while Wyden tends to take a more cautious approach. Baucus has put more of an emphasis on expanding the number of free trade agreements to which the U.S. is a party, whereas Wyden’s focus has been more on enforcement of unfair trade laws, particularly with respect to the solar sector.

MTB Reform. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced April 24 a bill (S. 790) that would reform the miscellaneous trade bill process by giving the International Trade Commission a more active role. Under this bill companies seeking to reduce or suspend a tariff on an imported product would submit their request directly to the ITC instead of first having to get a member of Congress to introduce legislation. The ITC would then submit a draft bill for each request to the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees. This process would be used for the next three MTBs, in 2013, 2015 and 2018.

The ITC would also have to submit to these committees each year a report that (a) makes recommendations on sectors of the U.S. economy that could benefit from duty suspensions or reductions without causing harm to other domestic interests and (b) assesses the feasibility and advisability of suspending or reducing duties on a sectoral basis rather than on individual articles.

Trade Promotion Authority. The last congressional grant of TPA (also known as fast track), which allows the president to submit trade agreements to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, expired in 2007. However, with several negotiations underway or set to begin in the near future, the White House, Congress and the trade community are preparing to advance TPA legislation this year.

Sen. Baucus said at an April 24 hearing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations that he “would like to see a bipartisan TPA bill introduced by June.” However, some members of the House are reportedly working to finalize a letter to Democratic leaders opposing TPA. The draft asserts that a broad delegation of Congress’ constitutional authority to regulate foreign trade is not generally appropriate because today’s trade agreements “delve deeply into many non-trade matters under the authority of Congress and state legislatures.”

Other. Following is a list of additional 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.

S. 780/H.R. 1663 – to provide for an exception from infringement for certain component parts of motor vehicles (introduced April 23 by Sen. Whitehouse and Rep. Issa; referred to the Senate and House Judiciary committees)

H.R. 1708 – to suspend temporarily the duty on certain footwear (introduced April 24 by Rep. Jenkins; referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means)

H.R. 1777 – to increase U.S. exports to Africa by at least 200% within 10 years (introduced April 27 by Rep. Smith; referred to the House committees on Foreign Affairs, Ways and Means, Small Business and Financial Services)

H.R. 1823 – to prohibit the importation or exportation of mussels of a certain genus (introduced April 30 by Rep. Heck; referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary)

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