President Obama will sign customs enforcement bill

The White House on Thursday said President Obama will sign a customs enforcement conference report, calling it a "milestone" in his administration's trade agenda.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who noted a couple of problems with the 10-year bipartisan measure, highlighted the legislation's overhaul of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, new protections for intellectual property and more tools for the government to curb currency manipulation.

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“We are pleased the Senate passed the bipartisan customs conference report because it will provide additional tools to help crack down on unfair competition by trading partners and foreign companies that put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage,” Earnest said in a statement.

Earnest said that the legislation, which was the last of four major trade bills to pass Congress since last summer, would strengthen trade enforcement at ports and borders, bolster efforts to stop evasion of trade laws and improve the coordination of enforcement efforts. 

The White House opposed a provision that "contravenes longstanding U.S. policy toward Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity."

The provision instructs the U.S. Trade Representative to discourage boycotts by European Union countries of “Israel or persons doing business in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories” during trade talks between the United States the EU.

The Senate easily passed the bill 75-20, on Thursday finally clearing the path to the president's desk.

The conference report, which passed the House in December, got bogged down in the upper chamber after a measure permanently extending the ban on Internet access taxes was added to the bill.

But an agreement worked out this week let the Internet tax plan remain in the bill with a promise that a sales tax measure will be considered this year.

Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTop Republicans concerned over impact of potential Trump drug rule The Hill's Morning Report — Trump to GOP: I will carry you Treasury releases proposed rules on major part of Trump tax law MORE (R-Utah) said the bill marks "a major step forward" to bolster U.S. interests in international trade.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGroup files lawsuit to force Georgia to adopt paper ballots Treasury releases proposed rules on major part of Trump tax law Rubio slams Google over plans to unveil censored Chinese search engine MORE (D-Ore.) said "this bill is about coming down hard on the trade cheats who are ripping off American jobs, and the truth is past trade policies were often too old, too slow or too weak for our country to fight back."

The measure includes an overhaul of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, as well as new protections for intellectual property and more tools for the government to crack down on currency manipulation.

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetWhen it comes to drone tech, wildfire officials need the rights tools for the job NFL player wears 'Immigrants made America great' hat mocking Trump US farmers shouldn't be collateral damage in free-traders' crusade MORE (D-Colo.), who authored a currency manipulation measure, said the bill "puts in place strong tools that allows the United States to fight back, including keeping countries that manipulate their currency out of future trade agreements."

The measure had broad backing by business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, said the measure "will enable U.S. businesses to be more competitive globally by unleashing the potential for small- and medium-sized businesses to access foreign markets."

National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch said that with the customs bill now down "we urge Congress and the administration to continue working together to resolve remaining issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) so policymakers can begin taking steps toward approving the agreement this year.”

The customs legislation also eliminates a loophole for imports made by forced and child labor and would create the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center to centralize trade enforcement efforts.

“This bill adds new tools that we’ll use in the work we do every day to hold America’s trading partners accountable,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanUS trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report Overnight Finance: Trump hits China on currency manipulation, countering Treasury | Trump taps two for Fed board | Tax deadline revives fight over GOP overhaul | Justices set to hear online sales tax case Froman joins Mastercard to oversee global business expansion MORE.

“Coming on the heels of negotiating TPP, the highest-standard trade agreement in history, this bill will further boost enforcement of the groundbreaking intellectual property, labor, environment, and many other fully enforceable commitments we’ve secured," Froman said. 

"In the next year, we look forward to working with Congress as we seek to pass TPP into law and advance the rest of our trade and enforcement agenda."