WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee passed presidential Trade Promotion Authority and several other trade measures Wednesday night, overcoming several obstacles and advancing a cornerstone of President Obama’s trade agenda.
The House Ways and Means Committee is set to mark up and vote on the package of trade bills today.
The centerpiece of the trade measures approved late Wednesday by the Senate panel was TPA, which allows Congress to set negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the executive branch, but also limits Congress to an up or down vote on trade deals.
Its passage by a large margin, on a vote of 20 to 6, in committee was significant in light of rancor within the Democratic ranks over Obama’s push for the authority, which is seen as a linchpin to securing the largest regional trade deal the U.S. has ever negotiated with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
The bill will next move to the Senate for a full vote, where a tough battle still awaits it.
“By acting to further break down barriers for American exports, we successfully advanced a strong trade agenda that will help move America forward,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), chairman of the committee. “These bills will open new markets for American-made products, which is vital for job creation and economic growth. Our work is not yet done. We need to continue with our bipartisan efforts and work to push these measures through the Congress and enacted into law.”
In addition to TPA, the committee approved a separate trade package important to the fashion industry that would extend the African Growth & Opportunity Act for a decade, renew the Generalized System of Preference program that expired in July 2013 and extend trade benefits in the HOPE and HELP programs for products from Haiti through September 2025.
Two other trade measures were also approved—Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that helps workers displaced by trade, and a customs trade enforcement bill.
Those bills will also move to the Senate floor for a vote.
Several amendments were adopted during debate of the four bills, some of which will have implications for the fashion industry.
The Outdoor Industry Association lauded the passage of an amendment from Sens. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) that will create new classifications in the tariff schedule for certain “recreational performance outerwear,” and essentially lower duties on those imports into the U.S.
The committee also adopted a second amendment from Cantwell that will lower the duties on certain imported water resistant performance footwear to 20 percent from a high of 37.5 percent.
OIA praised the committee for passing another amendment that would make textile and leather travel goods “eligible for consideration” to the Generalized System of Preferences program.
“All four provisions passed this evening – TPA, recreational performance outerwear and performance footwear classifications and the update to the GSP program – have all been priority issues for OIA’s government affairs team with TPA and the outerwear classifications included in last week’s successful OIA Capitol Summit in Washington, D.C.,” said Rich Harper, policy adviser for government affairs at the OIA, in an advisory sent to its members.
Other industry efforts did not meet with immediate success. A bid by four of the major industry associations to extend the expired Nicaragua Tariff Preference Levels under the Central American Free Trade Agreement for 10 years failed. The program, which expired at the end of the year, allowed U.S. firms making apparel in Nicaragua to use 100 million square meter equivalents of fabrics from outside of the CAFTA trade region. Within that TPL, there was also a matching one-for-one program that required every pair of woven trousers shipped under the TPL to be matched by a pair of trousers containing U.S. fabrics.
VF Corp. has said it used the overall program and Under Armour has also been said to have benefited from the program in Nicaragua.
A separate amendment that would block imports made with forced or child labor, which the committee adopted as part of the customs trade enforcement bill, could also have implications for the importers.
While Democrats failed in their attempts to add more punitive and enforceable language on currency manipulation in TPA, they succeeded in securing two amendments on currency that were attached to the customs enforcement legislation.
One would allow for “actions with respect to assessing potential trade agreement partners” if they fail to adopt appropriate policies to “address and correct persistent currency imbalances.” The second would allow for the potential imposition of duties on products from countries that intentionally lower the value of their currency against the dollar.