A customs reauthorization bill focused on improving trade facilitation and enforcement is now awaiting Senate action after being approved by the House of Representatives Dec. 11 by a vote of 256-158. There are reports, however, that the Senate may not take up the bill until January.

The lengthy bill includes dozes of provisions of interest to the trade community, including drawback reform, a four-fold increase in the de minimis amount of imports that can enter duty-free, new responsibilities for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to combat the evasion of antidumping and countervailing duties, enhanced targeting of high-risk shipments, tariff adjustments for certain outerwear and footwear, and trade preferences for some imports from Nepal.

The primary obstacle to Senate passage of the bill appears to be the addition of a permanent ban on states and local governments imposing taxes on Internet access. This provision was inserted in the conference report by House and Senate negotiators but did not appear in the legislation initially approved by either chamber. Press sources report that some senators object to this particular tactic while others oppose the provision itself. The National Retail Federation stated that this provision should be removed unless accompanied by “legislation to provide parity in sales tax treatment of Internet sales with sales in brick and mortar stores.” The dispute could prompt Senate leaders to postpone a floor vote on the customs bill until next month.

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