Friday, January 31, 2014

Here's Washington Trade Daily's Friday afternoon podcast for January 31, 2014


déja vu – all over again or tpa-ja vu ?

Are Democrats all the same?   When it comes to the last two Presidents – absolutely YES!

Some thoughts on Tuesday’s State of the Union Address  –  of the 50 lines in the speech, two were devoted to trade – or about 0.4 percent, which is about how much attention the President devotes to thinking about trade.
A studious critic of free trade agreements told me after the speech that she was listening carefully.  After the President’s references to small business, she sneezed and missed the entire section on trade.
Another veteran trade journalist likened President Obama’s trade reference to a “drive-by” shooting.

As for Democrats being the same.  We came across two WTD articles from July 1998, when that other great champion of trade, Bill Clinton, was sitting at his White House desk.  (Doing what, we dare not say).

Washington Trade Daily    July 8, 1998
Sen. Lott Says Clinton `Blew It’ on Fast Track
President Clinton “blew it” when he passed up a chance earlier this week to throw his support behind an effort to get legislation renewing Presidential fast track trade negotiating authority past Congress this year (WTD, 7/1/98), Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) said yesterday.
The Republican Leader said he is frustrated by the White House’s lack of enthusiasm for his and House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga) proposal to push through fast track before the end of the Congressional session.  Sen. Lott said he is ready to move ahead on a package combining fast track (S 1269) with the Africa Economic Growth and Opportunity Act (S 778) (WTD, 7/1/98) and Caribbean Basin Initiative parity legislation (S 1278) (WTD, 7/1/98).  He also confirmed he is willing to have the Senate act first in hopes of boosting support for fast track in the House.  But President Clinton’s apparent lack of interest may de-rail that plan, he said.
“Clinton had the opportunity to say something strong about fast track and he didn’t,” Mr. Lott told WTD.   If the President is not willing to take the lead on fast track, the measure may be doomed for this year ‒ along with the Africa and CBI parity bills, he said.
There is no question that fast track would pass in the Senate by a strong margin if it were brought to the floor, Mr. Lott said, although he did not rule out the possibility that some Democrats might try to block a vote.  The Majority Leader noted, however, that the Senate has fallen far behind in its work on appropriations bills and if some real progress is not made on that front in the next week or two there may, indeed, not be enough time left in the session to do anything of substance.
On the House side, support for fast track is less certain.  But Mr. Gingrich last week announced he had found a way to squeeze out enough votes by amending the legislation to give the House and Senate Agriculture committees the same review status enjoyed by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.
Also commenting to reporters yesterday, Commerce Secretary William Daley said he did not see how a majority in the House could be garnered to pass fast track.  This is not the time to do it ‒ with just 38 days of the legislative session left and prior to an important mid-term Congressional election.
Mr. Daley suggested that Republicans were playing “politics” with the issue.
Congress, instead, should focus on fully funding the International Monetary Fund and complete action on a subSaharan African trade bill.

Washington Trade Daily   July 10, 1998
Clinton Still Backs Fast Track ‒ But Not Now
Getting fast track trade negotiating authority renewed for himself remains a top priority for the President, but the Administration does not intend to push for Congressional consideration of a bill (HR 2621, S 1269) until there are enough votes for passage (WTD, 7/6/98), US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said yesterday.
Testifying to the Senate Finance Committee on US-China relations (see related report this issue), the top US trade official said the Administration does not intend “to put a fast track bill up for sport.”  She admitted that the problem of gaining sufficient support is on the House side of the Capitol.
Ranking Democrat Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY) assured the witness that, indeed, the votes will not be “there” until the Administration commits to another effort at passing the bill, which stalled last year.  He said the Clinton Administration has the dubious honor of “stopping in its tracks” a 50-year evolution of a movement toward free trade that began in the first Roosevelt Administration in 1934.
Ms. Barshefsky downplayed the immediacy of fast track.  She told the committee that lack of the special trade negotiating authority has only affected one major trade initiative so far ‒ negotiation of a free trade agreement with Chile.  The rest of the Administration’s trade agenda ‒ including a start to the new round of multilateral trade negotiations, a formal beginning of Free Trade Area of the Americas talks and several sectoral agreements on basic telecommunications, financial services and information technology as well as similar efforts within the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum continue.
Nonetheless, Ms. Barshefsky agreed that nothing will be accomplished on fast track without Administration leadership.

Jim Berger

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Was it a dumb mistake – or was it a fatal mistake?  Maybe it was both, some well-clued-in trade types told WTD this week.
The ruckus caused by the “no-show” of US Trade Representative Michael Froman for an important Senate Finance Committee hearing on the long-anticipated Presidential trade negotiating authority bill continues to reverberate a week later, rather than fade out – as is usual for most faux-pas in Washington.
Reaction – almost to the person – was sharp from senators at the hearing last Thursday.  Ranking committee Republican Orrin Hatch said that unless the Administration gets involved in the process, the President may not get TPA at all.  Former USTR Robert Portman – a Finance member – put it more succinctly – “He should have been there.”
  Two other former USTRs this week said they were equally perplexed by the move – or non-move.  One told WTD that it goes way beyond political tactics and hits at the heart of US influence in the world economy.  Many foreigners outside the United States are watching closely to see what the Obama Administration does on TPA.
They both told WTD that they always jumped at the chance to testify to the oversight committee when it came to explaining trade priorities of their respective Administration – if the issue were important to their boss.  Maybe TPA is just not that important.
Told well before the meeting that the USTR would not attend, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus brushed off the criticism, telling WTD that the nonappearance was “no big deal” since everyone knows the Administration strongly supports TPA.
The official answer came from USTR.  Mr. Froman thought it more important for Congress to experience first-hand just how “stakeholders” view the issue.  Testifying in support that day were the chairman of Honeywell International, a New York state apple grower and an exercise and fitness equipment designer.  Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen said flatly that the United States cannot afford any more free trade agreements perpetuated by FPA.
How that’s for a roaring endorsement.
But while Finance was holding its hearing, USTR Froman was “working” House members behind closed doors.  Nobody is saying just what he was telling members.  The ambassador is spending days and nights on Capitol Hill, USTR is telling the press.
As for involvement at a higher-level, USTR Froman refused to tell WTD this week whether President Obama will call for TPA in next week’s State of the Union address.  It was not a difficult question since the President already made big news a couple of months ago when he said he wanted the special trade negotiating authority.  It is going to be needed to move ahead on the highly touted TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment partnership negotiations.
President Obama, himself, gave a hint in last week’s Saturday radio address that TPA may not warrant more than a mention at best in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.  He cited two important things that Congress can do to create jobs in the country – getting immigration under control and building new physical infrastructure.  Neither are anything the Obama Administration or Congress is capable of dealing with.
Trade was not a factor in his brief Saturday remarks, but it sparked a comment from one former USTR to rhetorically ask WTD whether the Administration knows basic “economics 101.”  Our answer – “It doesn’t seem that way.”
Whether the President knows it or not, how many words and how much emphasis are given to TPA in the State of the Union will likely seal its fate.
Not getting TPA essentially means no US jobs-creating Asia-Pacific trade agreement – and puts into deep question the future of the TTIP.

(P.S. – Does conducting business one-on-one with House Democrats behind closed doors bolster USTR’s insistence that it is the most “transparent” agency in government ever?  Maybe I’m just too dumb to understand.
All I know is that the last time a USTR met “privately” and “one-on-one” with House members to support TPA, it resulted in a plethora of Administration promises – including secret deals involving federal money allocated for bridge building (literally) to promises to keep open Agriculture Department facilities in Congressional districts.  That is something we in Washington call real “pork.”

We’ll see.

Jim Berger

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Here's What We're Covering This Week

Congressional lawmakers are back in their home districts this week, but the nation’s mayors will be here in Washington to hear from President Obama and top cabinet officials, including US Trade Representative Mike Froman.
            Monday is a federal holiday here in Washington.
             ●          On Tuesday, the Atlantic Council sponsors a program on relations between France and the United States with speakers including French Ambassador Francois Delattre.
             ●          Brazilian Ambassador Mauro Vieira also speaks on Tuesday, to the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.
             ●          Wednesday, the National Conference of Mayors begins a three-day meeting.  USTR Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker are among the speakers on Wednesday.
             ●          Meanwhile, Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler speaks at a conference on the US-Australia alliance sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
             ●          On Thursday, USTR Froman heads to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he is expected to discuss the World Trade Organization and ongoing TransPacific Partnership trade negotiations.
             ●          On Friday, Acting Deputy USTR Cutler speaks to the National Conference of Mayors.

See you there!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What We're Covering This Week......

Congress is back and now in the early stages of looking at legislation introduced last week to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority.
Here are some of the events we’ll be following:
●          On Monday, Women in International Trade sponsors an off-the-record program on TPA with House Ways and Means Chief Trade Counsel Angela Ellard.
             ●          The Hudson Institute sponsors a program on US-Taiwan economic relations with speakers including William Liu of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.
             ●          Japanese Minister for Regulatory Reform Tomomi Inada speaks at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
             ●          On Tuesday, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy addresses the US Chamber of Commerce, where he is expected to discuss the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership among other issues.
             ●          The Heritage Foundation releases its 2014 Index of Economic Freedom.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) kicks off the discussion.
             ●          Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere holds a hearing on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which turns 20 this year.
             ●          Also on the Hill, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China holds a hearing to examine China’s compliance with the World Trade Organization and other international agreements.
             ●          The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of R. Gil Kerlikowske to be the next Customs Commissioner.
             ●          Also Wednesday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies sponsors a program on digital trade.
             ●          On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee officially kicks off Congressional debate on whether the President should have Trade Promotion Authority, holding the first hearing on the bill introduced last week by Chairman Max Baucus, ranking Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich).
             ●          The US Chamber of Commerce hosts Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
             ●          Women in International Trade sponsors a program on South Africa’s trade relations with the United States and European Union.
See you there!