WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 – Get ready for action on trade in Congress after weeks of negotiations. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch says he wants his committee to vote on a Trade Promotion Authority bill next week as well as some other trade measures. The TPA bill would set up the fast-track congressional process for approving new trade agreements.
Negotiations on the TPA bill and related issues were still going on, but Hatch told reporters Tuesday he was “very optimistic” that a deal was close. In fact, he’s optimistic enough that he let it be known he’s planning to hold a hearing on the legislation Thursday.
One thing that’s not going to be in the TPA is an extension of trade adjustment assistance (TAA), a top issue for Democrats. Hatch said the Finance Committee’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden, was negotiating the TAA issue separately with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and that TAA will be handled in a separate bill.
“It’s not going to be in the TPA bill, not under any circumstances. I’ve decided on that,” Hatch said. “It will be passed as a separate bill. We all know it has to pass.”
TAA programs have provided a variety of services to workers, businesses and farmers that have been hurt by imports. Workers can get job training, cash payments and other services. Farmers have qualified for cash benefits and technical assistance.
Hatch’s timetable means that the TPA bill would have cleared his committee when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses Congress the last week of April. Japan is believed to be waiting for the TPA bill to cut a final deal on lowering its barriers to U.S. agricultural commodities and autos.
Darci Vetter, the administration’s top agricultural negotiator, is in Tokyo Wednesday along with Wendy Cutler, the deputy U.S. trade representative, for negotiations with the Japanese.
Other bills Hatch wants to move next week include two that would renew measures that provide duty-free treatment to imports from developing countries, the Generalized System of Tariffs (GSP) and the regionally focused African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The GSP law has been expired since July 2013. AGOA expires Sept. 30.
AGOA has been ensnared in a dispute between U.S. chicken producers and South Africa. U.S. poultry groups have been urging Congress to drop South Africa from AGOA unless South Africa lifts antidumping duties on American chicken.
Representatives of the U.S. and South African industries are under pressure from their respective governments to settle the dispute and are discussing a resolution on the sidelines of the International Egg Commission conference this week in Portugal, according to the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.
Meanwhile, opponents of TPA have scheduled a “no fast track” news conference Wednesday with friendly members of Congress on the Capitol grounds. “The voices of workers will be in the halls of Congress and at our rally to declare U.S. trade deals have been nothing more than broken promises of lost jobs and closed factories that are wiping out middle class American families,” said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers.
Hatch demurred when asked by reporters how many Democratic votes the TPA bill would have in committee.
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