The U.S. Congress returns to Washington on Tuesday after a six-week recess. On Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) issued a statement on the perceived lack of strong U.S. leadership, setting the stage for potentially-increased Republican oversight this fall:
Just as we saw our allies in Europe dissing us over the TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] negotiations last week, and today China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea while we sit at the table with them, we can expect many countries to strongly position themselves against our interests in the coming months. They will take advantage of a nation that behaves like a ship with no rudder. If we have learned anything, it is that the absence of U.S. leadership emboldens rogue behavior across the globe.”
While the Congress has less than four weeks to pass legislation funding the U.S. Government beyond the 30 September end of the fiscal year, lawmakers are also expected to focus on other matters, such as the Zika Virus, Iran, Russia and cyber-attacks some argue are attempted to influence the upcoming November elections.
Last week, President Barack Obama attended the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, before travelling to Laos on 5 September. At a press conference following the meeting, President Obama recapped the ten G-20 Summits he attended over the course of his presidency, highlighting collective efforts to address the financial crisis and to stabilize the global economy, as well as a U.S. priority to address tax avoidance and tax evasion. Prior to the Summit, the United States announced new sanctions related to Russia and Ukraine.
Iran – Congress Scrutinizes JCPOA Exemptions and the $400 Million Payment. Ahead of Congress’ return to Washington, Reuters reported last week on a think tank report released by the Institute for Science and International Security noting the U.S. Government and other international partners allowed Iran certain exemptions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Congress is expected to hold oversight hearings on these reported loopholes, as well as on the $400 million cash settlement payment made to Iran in January, as further details on the transaction – alleged by some Republicans to be a “ransom” payment – were revealed over the congressional recess.
- On Wednesday, 7 September, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Oversight of the Judgment Fund: Iran, Big Settlements, and the Lack of Transparency.”
- On Thursday, 8 September, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Fueling Terror: The Dangers of Ransom Payments to Iran.”
Ukraine – New U.S. Sanctions Imposed Against Russia. On 1 September, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added 37 individuals and entities to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List and the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications (SSI) List under three Executive Orders (E.O.s) related to Russia and Ukraine. The U.S. Treasury Department Press Release accompanying the designations indicated that the entities added to the SSI List are subsidiaries owned 50 percent or more by parent entities already designated to the SSI List. OFAC added these new entities to the SSI List to help the public more effectively comply with its sanctions regime, but the subsidiaries were already subject to the same restrictions as their respective parent companies. OFAC’s SDN designations targeted, among others, individuals and entities involved in the development of the Kerch Bridge spanning the Kerch Strait between Crimea and the Taman Peninsula.
President Obama met separately with Russian President Vladimir Putin while in China to discuss the conflict in Syria. The two leaders also discussed the situation in Ukraine, with President Obama stating the United States will maintain its sanctions against Russia until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented. The leaders also discussed cyber issues, particularly after multiple reports of cyber-attacks inside the United States were alleged to have originated in Russia.
MTB – ITC Prepares for Start of Petition Process. The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) continues to prepare for its new role coordinating Miscellaneous Tariff Bills (MTBs). The American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act of 2016 passed earlier this year shifted preparation of these measures – which temporarily eliminate or limit duties on products not made in sufficient quantities in the United States – away from lawmakers to the ITC, which will being to accept petitions from interested companies in mid-October. The ITC announced the following timeline in a recent press release:
- In early September, the ITC will launch a web page called “MTBInfo,” the pre-launch site for all information related to the MTB petition process.
- The ITC expects to issue rules and procedures related to the MTB petition process in September.
- The ITC will accept petitions and comments on petitions through a web-based MTB portal. The ITC will release more information on the portal in early October.
- The ITC petition process is expected to launch on Friday, 14 October. The MTB portal will become the primary MTB webpage.