Levin urges Dems to oppose customs bill deal

Levin urges Dems to oppose customs bill deal
© Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

A top House Democrat is urging his colleagues to oppose a deal on a customs enforcement measure, according to a letter obtained by The Hill. 

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, expressed serious concerns about climate, human trafficking, immigration and currency provisions in the final House-Senate conference report released Wednesday.

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"Unfortunately, the conference report falls short on all of these issues," Levin wrote in the letter to House Democrats. 

During a meeting with conferees Monday, Levin had said there would have to be major changes for him to support the compromise. 

He called the issues with the bill "disappointing because there are positive aspects."

Provisions that address importers skirting antidumping and countervailing duties and changes more effectively banning the importation of goods made with forced or child labor were noted as strengths in the bill.

His most serious concerns centered around amendments to the trade promotion authority (TPA) law that would make it harder "to address some of the most important trade-related problems of our time, including climate change and human trafficking."

"Unfortunately, even though we have been working on a customs bill for many years, the unjustifiable TPA amendments now overshadow that work," he said. 

He expressed concern that the climate change language "will prevent a multilateral agreement on climate change from being incorporated into the text of our trade agreements."

And the human trafficking language would allow for a trade agreement with a Tier 3 country — the lowest level in the State Department's yearly report on trafficking — to be fast-tracked through Congress if the country in question is taking action to make improvements.

House and Senate Democrats have asked the State Department to explain why Malaysia, which is part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal completed in October, gained a better position in the report even though they say the country has made few, if any, strides on human rights issues.

He also roundly criticized the agreement, which has been in the works for months, for cutting a currency provision that would have allowed the United States to slap import duties on countries that lower the value of their currency to gain a trading advantage.

That language, offered in committee by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), was never expected to survive a conference because it is opposed by the White House.

Levin said that instead of applying the countervailing duties, the bill includes a "meaningless" provision calling for more "engagement" and wouldn't provide a tougher policy on the issue that many in Congress argue has caused millions in job losses here.

He also said the final bill should have included a process to move forward with the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill. Instead, the measure added a "sense of Congress" that the bill needs to get done.