Lawmakers strike deal on key trade legislation

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House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday announced a deal that would bolster U.S. customs enforcement, among the key trade items on President Obama’s legislative agenda.

After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, top lawmakers said they had reconciled their differences on the measure that funds the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, streamlines rules to stop importers from skirting U.S. antidumping and countervailing duties, adds new protections for intellectual property and provides more tools to crack down on currency manipulation.

{mosads}Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is also the chairman of the conference committee, said the legislation “will help modernize the nation’s customs system and ensure it is ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century global economy.”

“Strong enforcement is a key element in our trade arsenal and thanks to this legislation the administration will have a number of new tools to hold America’s trading partners accountable,” Hatch said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said “our bipartisan agreement turns the page on impractical, outdated customs and border policies that have hurt American workers and job creators for decades.”

“This conference report fulfills our commitment to members of Congress during the discussion of TPA [trade promotion authority] to make sure the president enforces trade agreements, not just negotiates them.” 

The Senate Finance Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said the enforcement package is about jobs and “represents bipartisan trade enforcement priorities that were years in the making.”

“Too often, our laws and enforcement policies have proven too slow or too weak to stop the trade cheats before jobs are lost,” Wyden said.

He said the deal would ensure that “trade cheats cannot evade the consequences of violating our trade laws.”

“Congress is now on the verge of passing the strongest package of trade enforcement policies in decades.”

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on Ways and Means, said Monday that there was little chance he could support the deal over climate, immigration and currency provisions.

Levin said that he is concerned that climate provisions could prevent a multilateral agreement from being incorporated into the text of trade deals.

He also argued that the remaining currency provisions in the deal would have no teeth.

The House Rules Committee is set to take up the measure on Thursday afternoon, setting it up for floor consideration on Friday.

The bill contains two of Wyden’s top priorities — a new trust fund for trade enforcement and making the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center a permanent agency. 

The measure came up short on providing a new process to consider a Miscellaneous Tariff Bill.

Instead, the measure contains “a sense of Congress” provision that the committees are urged to move forward with a measure after holding consultations with the House, Senate and members of the public. 

“Manufacturers strongly support this long overdue step to update our customs and border policies and put in place effective trade enforcement mechanisms.” said Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers.

“We are, however, highly disappointed by the failure to agree to the concrete and commonsense Miscellaneous Tariff Bill reform process proposed by the Senate that would have eliminated an unnecessary tax on manufacturers,” she said.

The measure also addresses an issue raised by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), whose state is one of the nation’s largest producers of honey, over imports from China that are being shipped through other countries to evade duties. 

Conferees said Monday night during their first public meeting that their goal was to complete House-Senate conference report this week, about seven months after the Senate first passed the legislation in May.

Tags Customs enforcement John Thune Kevin Brady Kevin Brady Orrin Hatch Orrin Hatch Ron Wyden Ron Wyden

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