The House on Wednesday evening approved legislation that retroactively authorizes the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which expired in February and lets specified goods from more than 120 countries enter the U.S. duty-free. The bill was brought up under a suspension of House rules, usually reserved for noncontroverisal bills, and was approved by voice vote.
In brief debate on the bill, H.R. 2832, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said GSP is a "vital part of a robust trade agenda." Republicans are hoping that approving GSP will lead to passage of three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Camp said retroactive authorization of GSP will allow companies to be reimbursed duties they have paid on these imports since the program expired.
"The clear connection with jobs reinforces how important it is the program is renewed," he said on the floor. "This retroactive renewal will provide a timely infusion of capital to U.S. manufacturers that have paid higher duties and therefore higher production costs since the program expired."
Democrats welcomed approval of GSP, but complained that Republicans have blocked another trade priority -- renewing the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. That program helps retrain workers who lose their jobs to international trade.
"It is inexcusable that the Trade Adjustment Assistance that we improved on a bipartisan basis in 2009 has stood expired since February," Sander levin (D-Mich.) said. "The only reason we are considering this legislation today is because House Republicans have been unwilling to support a simple extension of the expanded TAA program."
Levin also said he expects the Senate to add TAA to the GSP bill once the House sends the bill to the Senate, and called on Republicans to support this addition.
"If that is path for renewal of TAA, the Republicans have an obligation to ensure that it happens immediately as a primary action," he said.
Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would meet with White House officials tonight to discuss how to move TAA this year. Reid also said he wants TAA passed before any of the free trade agreements are passed.
A Republican, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), spoke against GSP on the floor Wednesday by arguing that the program allows duty-free entry of sleeping bags from Bangladesh, which hurt Exxel Outdoors, a sleeping bag manufacturer in Alabama. Reinstatement of the program would eliminate a 9 percent duty on sleeping bags from Bangladesh.
"Without this modest import duty, there will be at least another 150 people who will lose their jobs unnecessarily, in a region where unemployment is already over 15 percent," he said. However, Aderholt did not say he would take any action to oppose the bill, and said he looked forward to working with the Ways & Means Committee to change the provision.
Aderholt has argued for several years now that sleeping bags should be considered as an import-sensitive item that cannot benefit from duty-free access.