President Barack Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia last week, meeting with Saudi officials on Thursday and attending the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit on Friday to discuss crises in the Middle East. The President then travelled to the United Kingdom (UK), where he urged the UK to remain in the EU ahead of its June referendum vote. He warned that should the UK exit the EU, the country would then be “in the back of the queue” for a possible free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States, adding the U.S. Government has prioritized concluding an FTA with the EU first.
President Obama was in Germany on Sunday to attend the Hanover Messe, of which the United States is the Partner Country for the first-time ever. He met with Chancellor Angela Merkel while in Germany to discuss the momentum of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks just as negotiators meet this week in New York, New York.
The House Ways and Means Committee marked up a bill (H.R. 4923) last Wednesday that would reform the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) process. The full House will consider the measure this Wednesday under suspension of the rules, which is reserved for non-controversial bills. The House will also consider the Senate-passed version of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (S. 1890) on Wednesday after the House Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced the measure last week. Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee will mark-up its Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
TTIP Developments – 13th Round of Negotiations Commences
U.S. and EU negotiators are meeting this week in New York City for the latest round of TTIP negotiations, where they will attempt to consolidate some proposed texts. While neither side has submitted language on regulatory cooperation yet, reports indicate negotiators may focus on formulating a structure for the text across nine regulatory categories: autos, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, cosmetics, chemicals, textiles, information communication technology products, pesticides, and engineering.
President Obama discussed the status of the ongoing TTIP talks with German Chancellor Merkel, French President François Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron in Hannover on Sunday. The meeting also focused on joint counterterrorism efforts, the campaign against ISIL, migration in Europe, Syria, Ukraine and Libya.
The anti-trade sentiment in the U.S. presidential campaigns is affecting not only the completed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal but also the ongoing TTIP negotiations, with many speculating the Obama Administration will be unable to conclude a TTIP deal before the end of this year and the end of President Obama’s presidency.
MTB Developments – House Acts on the Reform Bill
The House Ways & Means Committee held a mark-up of its MTB reform bill last Wednesday, quickly approving the measure (with technical amendment) and advancing it to the full House for consideration this Wednesday. The National Association of Manufacturers led over 200 business groups and companies in urging Congress to swiftly act on the MTB reform measure.
NDAA – House Committee Markup on Wednesday
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is scheduled to mark-up the FY 2017 NDAA (H.R. 4909) on Wednesday. Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) released his proposal for H.R. 4909 on Monday. To view the bill text, click here; to view the bill summary, click here. The NDAA page of the HASC website will be the hub for all resources related to the FY 2017 NDAA, available here.
Ukraine – Full Implementation of Minsk Agreements Urged, Again
A White House readout of the meeting between German Chancellor Merkel, Presidents Obama and Holland, and Prime Ministers Renzi and Cameron, reported the leaders stressed that full implementation of the Minsk agreements remains crucial, reiterating sanctions against Russia would be lifted only if the Minsk agreements are fully implemented.
Syria – U.S. Authorizes Additional Military Deployment
In a speech while in Hanover that broadly outlined European issues, President Obama explained his authorization of the deployment of an additional 250 U.S. Special Operations forces to Syria: “They are not going to lead the fight on the ground but help in assisting local forces in pushing Islamic State back.”
Senate Appropriators Approve Increased Funding for USTR, the Commerce Department and for Cyber Security
Last Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to increase the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to $59.3 million, $4.9 million more than enacted in FY 2016 and matching the Obama Administration’s FY 2017 budget request proposed in February. The FY 2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill also included a $70.9 million increase for the Commerce Department, for a total Department budget of $9.3 billion. These increases reflect strong Senate support for ensuring the two Agencies can enforce U.S. trade laws.
The Senate CJS bill further includes $1 billion to the Justice Department to investigate cyber crimes and $75.7 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The CJS bill could reach the floor before lawmakers go home for a week in early May.
TPP Developments – Obama Administration Still Explaining Benefits
The Commerce Department released a report on Friday that highlights the benefits U.S. businesses can experience when exporting to the 11 TPP countries. It further details each market’s top export sectors and explains how existing tariffs will be impacted once the agreement enters into force. To help determine the tariff reductions for various products to TPP countries upon entry into force, visit the updated Tariff Tool.
Panama Papers – Lawmaker Urges Passage of a Transparency Bill
In a letter last week, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) urged Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to quickly convene a hearing to consider a bill she introduced in February (H.R. 4450) that seeks to increase transparency over the “beneficial owners” involved in shell company structures. Congresswoman Maloney stated: “It is long past time to end the rampant abuse of anonymous shell companies in the [United States].”
Cyber Security Update
The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark-up the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT Act; S. 2607) this Wednesday. The bill was introduced by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and seeks to have the Commerce Department create an Internet of Things Working Group that would be tasked with reporting to Congress within a year on recommendations to boost connected devices.
Congressional Hearings This Week
Both chambers of Congress are in session this week, with the following hearings scheduled:
- On Tuesday, 26 April, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “Review of Resources, Priorities and Programs in the FY 2017 State Department Budget Request.”
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “Examining FY 2017 Funding Priorities in the Western Hemisphere.”
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “South Sudan’s Prospects for Peace and Security.”
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “Advancing U.S. Interests: Examining the President’s FY 2017 Budget Proposal for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “China Relations: Strategic Challenges and Opportunities.”
- On Thursday, 28 April, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “America as a Pacific Power: Challenges and Opportunities in Asia.”
- On Thursday, 28 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “U.S. Policy Toward Lebanon.”
- On Thursday, 28 April, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to convene a business meeting to consider: S. ____, Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2017.
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “How Can the U.S. Make Development Banks More Accountable?” Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs Nathan Sheets is scheduled to testify.
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “Counterfeits and Their Impact on Consumer Health and Safety.”
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “Focus on the Farm Economy: Factors Impacting the Cost of Production.”
- On Thursday, 28 April, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “Focus on the Farm Economy: Food Prices and the Consumer.”
- On Tuesday, 26 April, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to convene a hearing to examine the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program.
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the House Armed Services is scheduled to mark-up the FY 2017 NDAA.
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “FY 2017 Department of Defense Budget Request.”
- On Thursday, 28 April, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to convene a hearing titled, “Counter-ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Operations and Middle East Strategy.”
- On Wednesday, 27 April, the Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to convene an executive session to mark-up multiple bills, including the DIGIT Act (S. 2607) and the Digital Coast Act of 2015 (S. 2325).
Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:
- 25-29 April: President Obama attends the Hannover Messe in Germany
- Week of 25 April: TTIP negotiations in New York City
- 13 May: President Obama hosts the U.S.-Nordic Leaders Summit
- 18 May: Due date for release of the USITC report on the TPP deal
- [TBA] May: President Obama travels to Vietnam and Laos
- 26-27 May: G-7 Summit in Ise-Shima, Japan
- 8-9 July: NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland