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March 29, 2015

White House, Republicans Press Ahead On Trade Legislation Despite Opposition

While European officials said last week that it’s unlikely the U.S. and Europe will meet their end-of-the-year deadline to reach a trade deal between the two continents, several news sources reported Obama administration officials have continued their outreach to members of Congress to renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or “fast track” negotiating authority. 

In a press briefing last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), whose committee has oversight over trade issues, even praised the White House’s efforts on the issue. (Rep. Ryan noted TPA would not pass in the House without Democratic support.) Chairman Ryan said, “The administration has actually been fairly productive on this. Everyone is communicating well with one another. We know where the issues are, and we're trying to see if we can complete the circle and get a process that we all agree is a good process.” 

Despite his praise for the White House’s efforts, Chairman Ryan also said he and Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had not yet reached an agreement on a bill yet with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Democrats’ leading voice in Congress on TPA negotiations. Chairman Ryan said the three legislators are “making progress” but that the House might also go ahead and move a bill without buy-in from the Senate. Chairman Ryan also said Congress would likely have to move TPA in order for the Obama administration to finish negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. 

Meanwhile, forces continue to align against TPA and TPP. According to The Hill, left-leaning advocacy groups have promised they will try to field primary challenger for Sen. Wyden’s Senate seat if the incumbent works with Republicans and the White House to pass trade legislation. Additionally, members of the metals industry are increasingly vocal about unfair trade practices in general, movement that could signal their general opposition to trade legislation. According to the Coalition for a Prosperous America, to address steel dumping by foreign nations, Nucor Steel President Dan DiMicco has called on federal officials to:

  • “Self Initiate” a trade action against countries that are flooding the U.S. steel market;
  • Place quotas that limit imports to 50 percent of the last 15 months of finished steel imports by country;
  • Enter immediately into negotiations that result in voluntary limits on steel coming in from the offending countries (and any others that might try to do the same);
  • Leave the quotas in place for five years and gradually phase them out as the voluntary limits kick in; and
  • Perform an analysis to see if something similar needs to be done on semi-finished slabs, billets and other products.

In a hearing before the Congressional Steel Caucus last week, other executives from the industry, including U.S. Steel Corp.’s Mario Longhi, “called for Congress to more strongly enforce trade laws and to bolster standards for determining if companies have been hurt by foreign dumping.”