TPA bill clears committees

Senate and House send strong trade message in approval of trade bills.

Wednesday the Senate Finance Committee marked up and approved the proposed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill by a vote of 20-6 and the House Ways and Means Committee followed suit Thursday with its debate on the bill and passage by a bipartisan vote of 25 to 13.

TPA, seen as an essential assurance to foreign trading partners that Congress won’t amend any negotiated package, offers Congress the ability to vote up or down on any bill. It also defines 150 negotiating standards as includes transparency of public access to any negotiated text and for Congressional access during the negotiation process.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said TPA shows negotiators currently working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks that the U.S. is trustworthy. “They are waiting to put the best and final offers on the table,” Ryan said of Congressional passage of TPA. He noted one – the prime minister of Japan – is coming during the week of April 27 and is waiting for TPA passage assurances in order to put its best offer on the table.

The Senate is expected to make the first move on advancing its bill to the floor for a full vote sometime in early May.

Ahead of the Senate markup during a hearing on tariff policy, Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, explained that the 20 regions and countries the United States currently has trade agreements with represent a mere 6% of the world’s population, but buy nearly half of American’s exports. He also said when new trade agreements come into effect they have an annual average growth rate of 18% of the first five year period following an agreement coming into force.

Donohue said for American farmers and ranchers the stakes are particularly high as foreign markets place the highest tariffs on their agricultural products. “Agricultural exports have soared under new trade agreements,” he added.

AGOA and other trade bills

Both committees also took up original bills to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Generalized System of Preferences and the preferential duty treatment program for Haiti.

Agreed upon within the AGOA bill includes a trade agreement between the United States and sub-Saharan African countries, in the Senate was a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) and cosponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) which would put pressure on South Africa to remove unfair limits on American chicken imports. The amendment would require the president conduct an out-of-cycle review of South Africa within 30 days of enactment of AGOA.

The National Chicken Council, which has supported AGOA, said for the past 15 years while South Africa has benefitted from preferential duties under AGOA, it has simultaneously excluded chicken from its market. "This should send a clear message to South Africa and their poultry industry that they will not be given a 'Get out of jail free' card every time AGOA rounds the turn to pass 'Go.' It makes no sense for the United States to give special preferences to countries that treat our trade unfairly," said NCC president Mike Brown.

South Africa maintains a de facto ban on U.S. pork. It blocks U.S. pork exports based on a number of non-science-based barriers. The United States is at a significant disadvantage when it comes to gaining access to South Africa’s large and growing market for pork because that nation accepts pork from key competitors Brazil, Canada and the European Union. The National Pork Producer Council (NPPC) said it has been working with U.S. and South African officials to open the African country’s market to U.S. pork.

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