On June 24, the Senate approved the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, granting President Obama trade promotion authority, or TPA. The passage of this “fast-track” authority enables the President to leverage greater support during the upcoming negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by guaranteeing that the trade agreement to be finalized by the 12-nation pact will be sent to Congress for approval without permitting lawmakers to amend the treaty.
Passage of TPA has been at the forefront of President Obama’s legislative agenda as part of his greater economic legacy to ensure United States leadership in the largest piece of trade legislation of his tenure. Initially, after passing in the Senate, TPA faltered in the House of Representatives when House Democrats voted against the renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) legislation, which had been tied to TPA, in an effort to stop passage of TPA. This standoff between Congress and the President resulted in a decision to separate the TPA and TAA legislation, which permitted separate votes on the two pieces of legislation and enabled successful passage of TPA before the July 4th recess. The stand-alone TPA legislation was approved and sent to the White House for the President’s signature on Wednesday evening.
Legislation to approve TAA was passed on June 25 as part of a trade preferences package, which also guaranteed extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE), and Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) programs. The trade preferences package extends AGOA until September 30, 2025 and reauthorizes GSP until December 31, 2017, with retroactive treatment for eligible goods that were imported after the program lapsed on July 31, 2013.
Finally, legislation strengthening Customs enforcement has passed both chambers of Congress in slightly different variations. The Senate bill includes provisions for a Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) process and an amendment addressing currency manipulation that are missing from the House version. The two chambers will now go to conference to reconcile differences in the two bills.