Currency Provisions Pass Senate Finance Committee; TPA Advances in Congress

Stephanie Henry

Trade legislation made significant progress this week in Congress, but currency remains a key focus among many members. The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved two amendments related to currency as part of a package of bills to renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). However, similar measures were not expected to be included in related bills under review in the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday. Consideration by the full House and Senate is expected in the coming weeks.

Four bills were under consideration by the two committees over the last two days, comprising a package that includes priorities for both political parties: TPA, Customs reauthorization, extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance, and renewal of the African Growth and Opportunities Act. The TPA measure -- approved by the Senate Finance Committee and expected to be advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee before the end of the day on Thursday -- includes a negotiating objective on currency manipulation, a priority for many members of Congress. Despite this, there are no guarantees that the package will win sufficient votes for passage by both chambers, given strong opposition to TPA by labor groups. 

If passed, TPA would set out negotiating objectives for US negotiators involved in finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and set a timeline for Congressional consideration of the agreement once it is completed. Though China is not a party to the TPP or other trade agreements that would fall under TPA’s jurisdiction, the currency amendments included in the Senate’s version of the Customs reauthorization measure would apply to any country, including China. 

Senate Finance Actions

In a session that ran late into the evening due to a procedural effort by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to halt the committee’s work on TPA, the Senate Finance Committee passed all four bills, though some with amendments.

Four currency-related amendments were introduced in total – two to the TPA bill and two to the Customs reauthorization bill. Both amendments to TPA failed; the amendments to the Customs reauthorization bill were approved.

The first of the two approved amendments, offered by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), would require a new semi-annual report by the Treasury Department on trading partners’ exchange rate practices. The measure also includes enforcement provisions that range from consultation with offending countries to barring importation of products produced using stolen trade secrets, a process already in place under Section 337 of the Trade Act of 1930.

The second approved amendment, offered by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Rob Portman (R-OH), mirrors the problematic Senate bill introduced in February (S. 433). The provisions allow the Department of Commerce to levy trade remedies on countries deemed to be undervaluing their currencies. USCBC is opposed to legislative measures that would seek to address currency manipulation through US trade remedies practices. 

House Ways and Means Actions

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected before the end of today to advance the TPA bill for consideration by the full House. At the time of writing, the committee was considering 19 amendments on the bill. Though some committee members had sought to amend the TPA bill to include stronger currency objectives, several of those amendments were voted down this afternoon. Those amendments included one similar to the amendment offered yesterday by Senator Portman (R-OH) in the Senate Finance Committee, which would have sought enforceable currency objectives in TPA.     

USCBC will continue to monitor the proceedings and the progress of the measures in the full House and Senate.