WASHINGTON — The House passed a spending bill for the current fiscal year today that would increase the budgets for the two key federal trade agencies in charge of negotiating free trade agreements and enforcing U.S. trade laws.
The legislation, which passed on a vote of 298 to 121, is the product of a House-Senate conference compromise and combines three spending bills for fiscal year 2012 that ends Sept. 30, covering some of the government’s agencies, including the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, and Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation and Justice Departments. The Senate is also expected to take up and pass the spending bill as early as Friday.
USTR, currently involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which would be the largest regional trade pact for the U.S, is slated to get a boost in funding in the bill. The legislation provides an increase in the agency’s budget of $3.5 million and bring the total to $51.25 million in this fiscal year. It matches the funding request made by President Obama at the beginning of the year.
House and Senate conference members made a special emphasis in the report for USTR Ron Kirk to hire “no less” than four additional officials fluent in Chinese, with the additional funding to monitor and enforce China’s compliance with its World Trade Organization commitments.
Trade officials plan to ramp up negotiations on the TPP between the U.S. and eight other countries next year, which has significant implications for U.S. apparel brands, retailers and textile producers. The negotiations currently encompass the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Peru, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile and Malaysia. Japan, Canada and Mexico each recently signaled their intent to begin consultations to join the negotiations.
The spending bill also provides a boost in funding for the Commerce Department. It stipulates $7.6 billion in funding for the entire agency, a $26 million increase over fiscal year 2011, but $1.2 billion less than Obama requested. Within Commerce, the International Trade Administration would receive an increase in funding of $14.8 million to $455.5 million.
The Commerce Department oversees activities ranging from the collection of economic data and the census to imports and exports. The department also chairs the interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements that is responsible for factors impacting textile trade policy, such as short supply petitions that allow companies to use third-country fabric and yarns under certain trade agreements when the product is deemed to be not commercially produced in the U.S. The agency also shares oversight with the U.S. International Trade Commission over decisions on antidumping and countervailing duty cases.