By  on October 17, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Senate was set to pass a $56 billion spending bill Tuesday that would significantly increase funding for the administration's two trade-governing agencies and toughen enforcement of U.S. trade remedy laws.

The bill, which will have to be reconciled with a measure passed by the House in July, funds a variety of departments and agencies, including Commerce, Justice and NASA. President Bush threatened to veto the legislation because the Democrats' spending blueprint exceeds the ceiling in Bush's budget request for the 2008 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The spending measure would significantly increase the 2008 fiscal year budget for the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative's office. It would provide $7.35 billion for Commerce, which is $725 million more than the 2007 level and $754 million above the president's budget request.

The bill reflects the majority Democrats' emphasis on reshaping the trade agenda by tightening up the enforcement of U.S. trade remedy laws. The Senate provided $3 million in excess of Bush's budget request to enable the International Trade Administration, a division of Commerce, to hire additional personnel to "rigorously enforce U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty laws," the Senate Appropriations Committee said in a fact sheet.

"These positions are important in safeguarding U.S. industries and jobs against injurious unfair foreign trade practices," the committee said.

U.S. trade remedy laws have come under intense Congressional scrutiny this year with Democrats in control of Congress for the first time in more than a decade, recalibrating the trade agenda with an emphasis on protecting U.S. workers and industries.

The Senate on Monday approved 85 to 3 an amendment to the spending bill that seeks to "prohibit" funding for Commerce and the USTR if the administration acts "in a manner that is inconsistent with the trade remedy laws of the United States."

The amendment directs the Bush administration to "vigorously enforce its trade laws" and avoid free trade agreements that "lessen the effectiveness" of U.S. and international laws governing dumping and subsidies, as well as safeguard provisions. The amendment also directed the administration to "address and remedy market distortions" that lead to dumping and subsidization.

On the trade remedy front, several legislative proposals are pending in Congress, including legislation that would reinforce the U.S.'s ability to apply countervailing duty laws against subsidized imports from nonmarket economies such as China. Another bill would link U.S. trade remedy laws for the first time to undervalued currencies by imposing offsetting antidumping duties for imports entering the U.S. below cost or market value.The spending measure authorizes $48 million for the USTR office, which negotiates free trade agreements and files unfair trade cases against foreign countries. The budget request is $4 million above the agency's 2007 fiscal year level and $4 million above the President's budget request.

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