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Trade Legislation Likely to See Short Delay Due to Senate Finance Transition

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Legislation to reauthorize trade promotion authority, which is also expected to include a raft of other trade measures, is likely to experience a short delay due to the expected transition from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

TPA would establish congressional priorities for trade agreement negotiations and require lawmakers to consider legislation to implement such agreements on an expedited basis, subject to a straight yes or no vote with no amendments. The most recent grant of TPA expired in 2007, but the White House is pushing for a renewal in conjunction with its efforts to conclude talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 Pacific Rim countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the 28-member European Union.  

A TPA bill introduced in the House and Senate Jan. 9 by Baucus, Senate Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., immediately came under fire from congressional Democrats who want stronger provisions on issues like transparency, congressional consultation, currency manipulation, labor and the environment. Wyden, who will likely take the gavel at Senate Finance once the Senate confirms Baucus as ambassador to China (which is expected sometime in February), reportedly said this week that the TPA bill will need to be revised in response to those concerns.

However, Nicole Bivens Collinson, president of international trade and government relations for Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, said she anticipates the rewrite will take no more than four to six weeks. That’s good news for the trade community, she said, because the TPA bill is also expected to be the vehicle for advancing other priorities such as lowering tariffs on hundreds of imported inputs, extending the Generalized System of Preferences, and possibly a customs reauthorization.

Wyden’s anticipated revisions could help secure congressional approval of TPA, which President Obama called for in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address. Stronger provisions could help mollify the more than 150 House Democrats who said in late November that they will oppose TPA without such measures. It is unclear, however, if improvements would sway Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said Jan. 29 that “I’m against fast track” and that “everyone would be well-advised to not push this right now.” Hatch indicated to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the same day that more support from the White House is needed to overcome Reid’s hesitation and bring the TPA bill to the Senate floor.

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