WASHINGTON Business groups are pushing the U.S. Congress to pass legislation in the next nine days to prevent tariffs from rising on auto parts, tires, jewelry and other goods from developing countries under a trade benefits program that expires on July 31.
It remains unclear, however, whether lawmakers will act before they adjourn for a month-long August break, industry and congressional aides said.
The Generalized System of Preferences program waives U.S. duties on thousands of goods from developing nations to help create jobs in those countries.
The GSP program saved American companies an estimated $750 million in taxes on about $20 billion of imports in 2012.
More than half of U.S. imports under the program came from three countries - India ($4.5 billion), Thailand ($3.7 billion) and Brazil ($2.3 billion) and were followed by Indonesia, South Africa, the Philippines, Turkey, Angola and Russia.
"Not only will expiration adversely affect more than a hundred developing countries who use GSP, but it will hurt their U.S. customers," Laura Baughman, executive director of the Coalition for GSP, said in a statement.
The top GSP imports in 2012 were ferro alloys used in steel production ($1 billion), motor vehicle parts ($938 million), radial tires ($883 million), gold and silver jewelry ($748 million) and crude oil ($664 million), according to the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
Lawmakers in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have offered legislation to reauthorize the program through September 2015.
"I hope we can move this bill through Congress quickly and get it signed into law so that U.S. manufacturers can continue to receive these important benefits," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat.
"Given the sluggish state of economic growth in this country, we should not allow this program to expire," said Senator Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican on the panel.
House Republicans want a clean bill free of any amendments and are therefore pressing the Senate to act first.
The quickest course would be for the Senate to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but that requires getting a commitment first from all 100 senators not to offer any amendments that could block passage in the House.
"Senator Baucus is working with his colleagues in both chambers to find the best way to get it signed into law," said a committee aide.
Congress has failed in the past to renew the GSP program before its expires, but has renewed it retroactively in those cases.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Christopher Wilson)