U.S. lawmaker sees busy legislative trade agenda in coming months
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of a powerful U.S. congressional committee on Wednesday outlined a long list of trade legislation that he hoped to get done this year, including renewal of "trade promotion authority" for the White House.
"To quote my kids, OMG we have a lot of work to do," Representative Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said in remarks to the Washington International Trade Association that poked fun at the many abbreviations there are for trade bills and deals.
Camp also said it was important "to find a way to address overwhelming concerns in Congress about unfair currency practices."
He mentioned that in the context of trade talks with Japan, which many lawmakers believe has driven down the value of its currency to gain an unfair price advantage.
Trade promotion authority, or TPA, allows the White House to submit trade agreements to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without amendments. It is considered vital to encouraging other countries to put their best offers on the table in talks with the United States.
TPA expired in 2007 and Camp has been working on a bill to renew it with Representative Sandy Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and Senators Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch, the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
Democrats want the bill to include an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, a government program to help retrain workers who have lost their jobs because of import competition or factories moving overseas. That bill is unpopular with many free market-minded Republicans though.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has said the Obama administration wants to work with Congress on a TPA bill, as it proceeds to wrap up talks on a regional free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.
The White House also needs the trade legislation for recently launched talks with the European Union on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
Camp said he also wanted to pass legislation this year to renew the Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP. That program, which is set to expire at the end of the month, waives duties on thousands of goods from developing countries.
Another priority is passage of a Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, or MTB, Camp said.
That bill helps domestic manufacturers by waiving duties on raw materials and certain process goods made outside the United States. Congress passes an MTB bill roughly every two years.
Lastly, Camp said he wanted to pass legislation to modernize the Customs Service, focusing on the smoother movement of goods across the U.S. border and better enforcement of U.S. laws against unfairly priced imports.
With so many pieces of trade legislation pending, it is possible Congress could combine them into a huge omnibus trade bill, as it has occasionally done in the past.