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Congressional Action on SFIA-Backed Trade Bills Back on Track

Date: 6/24/15

Under a revamped game plan employed by House and Senate leaders, key SFIA-backed trade bills are moving forward once again.  On June 18, the House successfully passed a trade promotion authority (TPA) standalone bill (H.R. 2146) in a 218-208 vote.  On June 23, the Senate approved a cloture motion on the bill in a 60-37 vote, paving the way to a floor vote scheduled for the next day.  That will complete congressional action on TPA, although a needed fix to the bill is contained in separate customs legislation that remains pending.

On June 24, immediately after the scheduled vote on TPA, the Senate will vote on cloture for a modified GSP/trade preferences bill (H.R. 1295) that now has been modified to include trade adjustment assistance (TAA).  The final Senate vote on the GSP/trade preferences/TAA bill is expected to occur by June 25, with House leaders vowing to take up that bill before leaving for the 4th of July recess the next day. 

Assuming those votes go according to plan, the only trade bill action remaining outstanding will be the House-Senate conference on the customs reauthorization/trade enforcement bill (H.R. 644).  That conference will determine, inter alia, the fate of the miscellaneous tariff bill (MTB) reform provision that was contained in the Senate version of the customs bill.  Although the provision was intended to address the concerns of some Members that duty suspensions are akin to earmarks, the House leadership felt those concerns were not adequately addressed and it removed the MTB provision from the House-passed version of the bill

Another provision contained in the customs legislation is critical to ensuring that the hard-fought trade promotion authority can be used with respect to the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.  As reported, a human trafficking amendment attached to the TPA bill during the Senate Finance Committee markup had the effect of precluding TPA’s fast-track provisions from being used for Malaysia and, hence, for a TPP agreement.  Rather than risk opening to the TPA bill to amendments, House and Senate leaders decided to fix that provision via an amendment inserted into the customs bill.  That provision in particular will keep the heat on congressional leaders to complete the House-Senate conference on the customs bill soon after Congress returns from the 4th of July recess.

As reported, the new game plan for congressional action on the pending trade bills was required following the House’s derailment of TPA legislation on June 12.  House Democrats took advantage of an opportunity to thwart approval of the original Senate-passed TPA bill (H.R. 1314) by voting down the TAA provision that was then contained in the bill in a 126-302 vote.  Under a “dividing the question” voting procedure, House leaders had broken the Senate-passed TPA/TAA bill into separate votes on the two components, and both votes needed to succeed for the bill to pass.

To review, TPA is important to SFIA members because it is a practical necessity to securing congressional approval of the soon-to-be-completed TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and a later U.S.-EU TTIP agreement, as well as any other major trade agreement such as a possible Doha Round WTO agreement. 

The GSP/trade preferences bill would extend the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences, which provides duty-free treatment for 140 beneficiary developing countries for nearly all dutiable categories of sporting goods equipment, until December 31, 2017.  The extension would be retroactive to the program’s July 31, 2013 expiration.  The bill would also extend the African Growth & Opportunity Act and two Haiti-specific preferential programs.  In addition, the bill includes a provision that would allow the filing of petitions requesting that travel goods (including such items as gym bags) of textiles or leather be added to GSP eligibility, and provisions reclassifying water-resistant performance footwear and recreational performance outerwear.

The customs reauthorization/trade enforcement bill addresses various aspects of U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s trade facilitation and trade enforcement responsibilities.  Of particular interest to SFIA members, the Senate-passed version of the bill includes a provision that would establish a revised MTB process that would originate with the filing of duty suspension requests with the U.S. International Trade Commission. 

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