Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)

On Thursday, 16 April, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) released a draft Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill – The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (“TPA-2015”). The bill includes objectives on currency manipulation, settlement of investor-state disputes, intellectual property protections, environment and labor laws, and reduction or elimination of trade and investment barriers that hurt small businesses. TPA-2015 also includes a new human rights-related negotiating objective. To address transparency concerns, the President will be required to consult with Congress at key points in trade negotiations. The legislation also creates a Transparency Officer at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to consult with Congress and advise USTR on transparency policies. TPA-2015 would also broaden lawmakers’ ability to withdraw the fast-track authority if negotiators fail to meet certain criteria. Fast-track authority would be good for three years, with a potential three-year congressional extension.

President Barack Obama promptly released a statement welcoming TPA-2015 and the introduction of a separate Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to markup the trade promotion authority bill on Wednesday, 22 April, although the official hearing announcement may not be posted until today. On Tuesday, the Committee will host a hearing on TPA that includes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue. Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee will also hold a hearing on the TPA bill on Wednesday; Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Michigan) has said that many Democrats do not support the measure and that he will continue to work to defeat it.

Iran

Last Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bipartisan Iran bill (S. 615) to provide congressional approval over any final deal reached between the P5+1 and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program. That same day, the White House announced it would no longer veto the measure. Senate floor debate of the measure may be as soon as this week. On Wednesday, 22 April, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Nuclear Agreement with Iran: Can’t Trust, Can We Verify?”

Last Wednesday, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the Obama Administration has raised its concerns with the Russian government regarding Russia’s impending S-300 missile system delivery to Iran. Rhodes emphasized that the United States maintains good cooperation with Russia with respect to the ongoing P5+1 negotiation with Iran. He noted that the U.S. Government is looking at how to preserve the U.N.’s multilateral sanctions regime against Iran on items including ballistic missiles, sensitive technologies, and other arms, regardless of other sanctions relief.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

While acknowledging Russia has been helpful on certain global matters (e.g., Iran, Syria), White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last Thursday that the Russian government has, over the course of the last year, “flagrantly” violated the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people. He observed that the United States has noted Russian military activity inside of eastern Ukraine in support of separatists, behavior, he said, that is not consistent with the kind typically expected of a world power. Earnest added a substantial number of other “legitimate world powers” that have imposed sanctions would agree and have tried to negotiate with President Putin to deescalate the situation in Ukraine.

After a two-day meeting on several topics, the G-7 Foreign Ministers last Wednesday called on the Kremlin to pressure pro-Russia separatists in the east of Ukraine to support the ceasefire and withdraw heavy weapons as previously agreed. Their communique underlined the close link between full implementation of the Minsk Agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty with the duration of international sanctions.

Syria/Iraq Crises

Last week, President Obama welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to Washington. The President and the Prime Minister met Tuesday at the White House to reaffirm the long-term US-Iraq strategic partnership and their shared commitment to the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement.

U.S. Major General Michael Nagata, who has been leading the Syrian training program since last year, will rotate from his post as commander of Special Operations Command Central in May or June. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain cautioned last Tuesday that whoever replaces him will need time to get up to speed on the program, which itself has already been significantly delayed.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

On 23-26 April, TPP countries will hold the next chief negotiators meeting at a conference center in National Harbor, Maryland. Mexican Secretary of Economy, Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal met with USTR Ambassador Michael Froman last Tuesday to discuss TPP and bilateral trade matters. Ambassador Froman headed to Tokyo on Saturday to discuss market access and automotive trade with his Japanese counterpart, Akira Amari. The meeting is expected to lay the groundwork for the upcoming State Visit between President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (28 April).

Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP)

The ninth round of the TTIP negotiations will take place this week in New York City. Last week, Representatives Janice Schakowsky (D-Illinois) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Illinois) sought to have other Members join a letter that is expected to be sent to President Obama this week. The letter specifically seeks to have four TTIP concerns addressed: (1) the belief the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) System would allow private foreign corporations to challenge U.S. laws that may impact their “expected future profits”; (2) possible erosion of federal, state, or local governments’ ability to make decisions regarding how tax dollars are spent in public procurement; (3) possible weakening of existing E.U. and U.S. consumer, labor, health, environmental, and other public interest protections; and (4) a lack of transparency and accessibility to information about the ongoing negotiations.

U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank

At a Wednesday hearing last week, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) again criticized renewing the U.S. Ex-Im Bank charter. Ahead of the hearing, Republican Representative Stephen Fincher (Tennessee) said during a call organized by Exporters for Ex-Im Coalition that he was confident the export credit agency would be renewed before the 30 June deadline. Representative Fincher introduced a bill in January that would renew the Bank for five more years and make reforms, including independent audits of Ex-Im’s portfolio. Not helping the case to renew the Bank, last week, the Department of Justice indicted a former Ex-Im Bank loan officer with bribery.

Cuba

Last week, President Obama notified Congress of his intention to remove Cuba from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism List. In response, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) said,

“the White House is taking another big step closer to the Castro regime without consulting Congress. The State Department’s review process looks rushed.”

He added the Committee will be interested to hear from the White House how Cuba’s support for radical groups in the region, safe harbor for American fugitives, and international weapons trafficking justifies the move.

Other Trade-Related Developments

On Thursday, 16 April, the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees jointly released a summary of the AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act of 2015. The bill will address three trade programs by: (1) extending the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); (2) renewing the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which expired in 2013; and (3) extending a trade benefits program for Haiti.

Also last Thursday, Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania.) introduced The American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act – legislation to reform the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). This bill builds on the Senators’ efforts to simplify trade processes for America’s manufacturers.

On Thursday, 23 April, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa is scheduled to hold a hearing on AGOA.

Ebola

Last Wednesday, President Obama welcomed Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, and Guinean President Alpha Condé to assess current progress against Ebola and to look ahead to recovery in the region.

Human Rights Report

Later this afternoon, the State Department will release its 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – an annual report that focuses on the status of internationally recognized human rights practices.

Nominations

Last week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: Adam Szubin to be Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes; Jeffrey Hawkins to be US Ambassador to the Central African Republic; and Glyn Davies to be US Ambassador to Thailand.

This Week’s Hearings :

  • On Wednesday, 22 April, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “State Department Reauthorizaton: Ensuring Effective U.S. Diplomacy Within A Responsible Budget.”
  • On Tuesday, 21 April, the SFRC Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Improving The Efficiency And Effectiveness Of The Department Of State.”
  • On Wednesday, 22 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Accountability and Transformation: Tier Rankings in the Fight Against Human Trafficking.”
  • On Wednesday, 22 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Poaching and Terrorism: A National Security Challenge.”
  • On Thursday, 23 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The U.S. Rebalance in East Asia: Budget Priorities for FY 2016.”

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 20 April: President Obama will meet with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • 20-24 April: TTIP negotiations in New York, New York
  • 23-26 April: TPP negotiations in National Harbor, Maryland
  • 28 April: President Obama hosts Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
  • 7-8 June: G-7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany
  • 30 June: US Export-Import Bank charter expires
  • 15 September: 70th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) opens in New York City
  • 24 September: Pope Francis to address Congress and meet with President Obama
  • 28 September: General debate of the UNGA begins