Playing with numbers seems irresistible to most governments, but today I’m not talking about the sort of shenanigans that, say, Beijing plays with growth and trade figures. No, it is the peculiar way the United States has of designating which Congress did what. We can’t just say that Congress passed some bill in 2011. That may be accurate, but the official designation is that the bill was passed in the 112th Congress – which means nothing to most Americans, even less to those of you beyond our shores. You see, Congresses are numbered according to the 2-year terms of the House of Representatives. So if something happened during the 112th Congress, that could be in 2011 or it might be in 2012. That’s a long-winded introduction to a discussion of the trade issues likely to be taken up, for better or worse, by the 113th Congress that began earlier this year. That is, issues that could come up either in 2013 or 2014. Confused yet?
The Congressional Research Service (CRS), part of the Library of Congress, functions as an in-house consulting firm for Congress, responding to requests for information from any senator or member of the House. CRS reports may be indicative of the interests and bills likely to come up in the near future. The CRS website (www.crs.gov) was down when I worked on this post, but the Department of State provides a convenient list and copies of the CRS reports that impact international affairs, most of which concern international trade or investment. It is somewhat comforting that our Congressional leadership is asking about so many international issues.
CRS published a report a couple weeks back titled “International Trade and Finance: Key Policy Issues for the 113th Congress“, a forecast of what is coming in the next two years. It provides background material for Congressional staffers to use to educate their bosses and to draft bills, but also tells us which trade and investment issues are top-of-mind.
The 112th Congress (2011-2012), frankly, didn’t do much on trade. Sure, they passed the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama (leftover business from the Bush Administration) and finally authorized permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia, but most of their activity was simply maintenance issues for trade agencies and legislation. The CRS list for the new Congress is more ambitious. I am having a lazy morning with coffee on my lanai in the sun, so I will take the easy way out and quote the CRS’s own summary of the issues likely to grab Congress’ attention in the next couple years. Take a look at the full report for more details.
Among the more potentially prominent issues are:
1. Negotiations for comprehensive reciprocal trade agreements with major trading partners, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 countries from the Western Hemisphere and Asia, and new negotiations with the European Union for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Agreement;
2. Possible renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), allowing the President to enter into reciprocal trade agreements, and providing trade negotiating objectives and expedited legislative procedures to consider trade agreement implementing bills; …
3. U.S.-China trade relations including investment, intellectual property rights protection, currency reform, and market access liberalization;
4. International finance issues including implications of the ongoing Eurozone debt crisis for the U.S. economy, oversight of international financial institutions, and negotiations to conclude new bilateral investment treaties (BITs);
5. Oversight of the stalemated World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round negotiations and separate new trade negotiations (e.g. services) that some members of the WTO have undertaken;
6. Review of the President’s export control reform initiative and possible renewal of the Export Control Act (EAA), and review of trade sanctions;
7. Oversight of the President’s request for new authority to reorganize and consolidate the business- and trade-related functions of six federal entities; the Export-Import Bank, and the Administration’s National Export Initiative;
8. Reauthorization of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and expiring trade preference programs (e.g., the GSP and the Andean Trade Preference Act).
Renewal of GSP and the Andean program needs to be done before July 31, 2013. Anybody’s guess as to when or in what form the others will come up.