Senator Max Baucus Nominated as Ambassador to China

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) has been nominated by President Obama to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China.  If confirmed, the six-term Senator will replace Gary Locke, the former Governor of Washington.  Announcing his retirement last year, Sen. Baucus is currently the Chairman of the Committee on Finance, where he has been a central figure on issues relating to international trade, taxes, and health care.  As the Senate’s third-most senior Member, Sen. Baucus has served in state and federal elected office since 1973.  The White House released the following statement: “For more than two decades Max Baucus has worked to deepen the relationship between the United States and China.  The economic agreements he helped forge have created millions of American jobs and added billions of dollars to our economy, and he’s perfectly suited to build on that progress in his new role.”  Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is next in line to take over the Finance chairmanship, as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) also announced his retirement in 2013.  The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will consider Sen. Baucus’ nomination on January 28. For more information, click here.

House Committee on Foreign Affairs Reflects on NAFTA’s 20th Anniversary in Hearing

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, held a hearing on January 15 entitled, “NAFTA at Twenty: Accomplishments, Challenges, and the Way Forward.”  The two-panel witness list included former U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills, former Congressman David Dreier, Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, Mark T. Elliot of the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Duncan Wood from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Members and witnesses were in a reflective mood at the hearing dedicated to the North American Free Trade Agreement’s twentieth anniversary, and described the need to apply the lessons learned from the United States’ first multi-lateral free trade agreement to the two ongoing multi-lateral FTAs, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Members’ questions focused largely on two issues: energy and intellectual property.  A number of Republican Members, including Full Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), urged a decision by the Administration on the Keystone XL pipeline.  Moreover, there were also positive reactions on the GOP side to recent news of Mexico’s end to the nation’s longstanding oil and gas monopoly, which is expected to open the country to foreign energy investment.  Canada’s ongoing intellectual property violations, particularly in the area of pharmaceuticals, however, remain an area of serious concern, expressed Ranking Member Albio Sires (D-NJ).  Subcommittee Chairman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called for reform through Canada’s legislative process, and voiced the possibility of filing a claim at the World Trade Organization.  “I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to rule that out,” he said. 

Trade Promotion Authority Legislation Introduced, Senate Finance Holds Hearing

On January 9, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced legislation that sets forth Congress’ trade negotiating objectives and creates a special legislative process for congressional consideration of trade agreements.

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or “Fast Track” as the bill has been called in the past, is viewed as key to the successful conclusion of two trade agreements the Obama Administration is currently negotiating, the near-complete Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is in the early stages of negotiations.  Congress last passed a TPA bill in 2002, and it expired in 2007.  TPA is important, and some would say necessary, because it provides assurance that U.S. negotiators can make good on their word.  TPA limits consideration of bills that implement a trade agreement to an up or down vote, without amendments.  It also creates special procedural rules in both the House and Senate that subject trade implementing bills to a specific timetable for consideration.

Among the negotiating objectives, the bill establishes new provisions addressing so-called 21st Century issues including currency manipulation, state-owned enterprises, localization barriers to trade, digital trade in goods and services, and improved regulatory practices.  The bill also includes updated objectives for labor and environment and stronger intellectual property protections.  Click here for more information on the bill.

On January 16, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the bill, entitled “Advancing Congress’s Trade Agenda, The Role of Trade Negotiating Authority.”  Witnesses included David M. Cote, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Honeywell International, Jim Allen, President, New York Apple Association Inc., Elena M. Stegemann, Director of International Business, NuStep Inc. and Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America.  The United States Trade Representative was invited, but declined to testify. Republicans, including Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), among others, expressed disappointment about Ambassador Froman’s decision not to attend.

Committee Democrats noted that many improvements would be needed in areas of congressional oversight, participation, and strengthening of provisions that would make TPA effective for the 21st century.  Areas included stronger provisions on currency and labor.  Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opposed inclusion of investor-state provisions in TPP (as well as a negotiating objective in TPA).  Sen.  Ron Wyden (R-OR), the expected incoming Senate Finance Chairman when Chairman Baucus leaves to become the U.S. Ambassador to China, signaled that the TPA bill needed work.  Industry witnesses supported the legislation, which they said is needed to reduce trade barriers to U.S. products.  Many mentioned the importance of TPA in connection with the pending European Union and TPP trade negotiations.

Chairman Baucus indicated the Committee would hold a mark-up of the bill soon, but did not give a specific time.  For more information on the hearing click here

Senate Finance Committee Votes on ITC Commissioner

The Senate Finance Committee held an open executive session on January 15 to consider reporting the nomination of Rhonda Schnare Schmidtlein to be a member of the United States International Trade Commission for a term expiring December 16, 2021, replacing Commissioner Shara Aranoff.  Schmidtlein was favorably reported by Senate Finance Committee members from the floor, 24-0.  A full Senate vote has not yet been scheduled. 

Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing to Consider Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nominee

On January 15, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of R. Gil Kerlikowske to serve as Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  If confirmed, Mr. Kerlikowske would replace Commissioner Alan Bersin, a recess appointment, who resigned from the post in December 2011.  CBP has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since 2009, which marked the end of a three-year term for Commissioner Ralph Basham, who was appointed during the Bush Administration. 

Mr. Kerlikowske previously served as the director of national drug control in the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House.  Before that, he spent nine years as Seattle chief of police.  No date has been set for the Committee to report Mr. Kerlikowske’s nomination.  For more information click here