Several major trade bills have begun to move, or will soon begin to move, through Congress and are expected to pass this fall, ending months of partisan wrangling over the process and timing for consideration of these bills. The Senate voted on September 19 to take up the Generalized System of Preferences (“GSP”) Act, which passed the House of Representatives on September 7. GSP, which provides preferential duty-free entry to eligible products from beneficiary developing countries, lapsed at the end of 2010.
The GSP renewal bill became the legislative vehicle for Senate consideration of an amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Reid on behalf of several other senators to renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance (“TAA”) program. The TAA program provides short-term income and retraining assistance to workers laid off due to import competition. The TAA program expired in February 2011. The Senate passed the GSP bill, including an amendment to renew TAA, on September 22, returning the bill to the House for final passage.
House passage of the GSP bill with the TAA amendment will clear the way for the Administration to submit implementing legislation to Congress for consideration and approval of the pending free trade agreements (“FTAs”) with Korea, Colombia, and Panama. The Administration has made formal submission of all three agreements contingent on extension of the lapsed TAA provisions. Some reports have indicated that House leadership might decide to vote on the GSP bill but wait to send it to the president until after the FTAs have been formally submitted to the Congress and possibly passed by both houses. It is expected that the House and Senate would then vote on the three FTAs. Although the exact timing of these votes remains unclear, all three FTAs are expected to pass both the House and Senate relatively quickly once they have been submitted.