Monday, July 19, 2010

Legislative Update: Trade Measures Could Move Before Summer Recess

(World Trade Interactive)

With just a few weeks left before the month-long congressional summer recess begins, there are several trade-related measures that could see action in that time. A miscellaneous trade bill with hundreds of import duty breaks appears to finally be moving forward, a financial reform bill that cracks down on trade in conflict minerals and tightens anti-bribery law enforcement is expected to be sent to the White House soon, and supporters are still working to move bills dealing with China’s currency and food safety.

Miscellaneous Trade Bill (MTB)

A draft manager’s amendment of a miscellaneous trade bill providing duty breaks for hundreds of imported inputs and other goods not produced or otherwise available domestically (see attached) was posted to the House Ways and Means Committee’s Web site July 7. This measure would provide duty-free treatment for affected goods retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010. Supporters are hoping to bypass a committee vote and move the bill straight to the House floor and to then have the Senate pass the same bill by unanimous consent. Ways and Means majority staff members have indicated that they would like to see a vote in the House before the August recess, but the timing of action in the Senate is uncertain.

There are hundreds of individual duty suspension bills that are not included in the draft manager’s amendment, most of which were introduced in the Senate in 2009. On July 8, the Senate Finance Committee posted on its Web site the results of the administration’s review for most of these bills. Sources close to Congress expect that a second MTB containing these bills will be drafted and possibly passed before the end of the year.

The MTB process had been held up by a self-imposed ban by House Republicans on legislation with earmarks. Some have held that the duty reduction measures in the MTB should be considered earmarks, but Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin disputed that view in a recent “Dear Colleague” letter asking lawmakers to support the MTB. Levin pointed out that House rules do not define individual MTB provisions as earmarks, which he said “makes sense” because such provisions do not direct how federal government funds are spent. He also noted that MTB provisions go through an extensive and public vetting process in which anticipated beneficiaries are identified (if there are 10 or fewer).

Free Trade Agreements

The Obama administration has indicated in recent weeks that it will work to advance the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement later this year and that it wants to submit the Colombia and Panama FTAs for congressional consideration “as soon as possible.” A number of companies and business groups, along with some lawmakers, have applauded the president’s announcements and urged quick action, but others have called for caution and are seeking meetings with the president to outline their concerns.

The president directed U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to begin discussions with Korean officials in hopes of resolving outstanding concerns by the G-20 leaders’ meeting in November. South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon said recently that talks are not expected to begin until late September but that he believes the November deadline can be met. There has been no indication yet on how the administration plans to overcome resistance to the Colombia and Panama agreements. Read the complete article here.