USTR Chief Touts Obama’s Trade Agenda Amid Setbacks

USTR Chief Touts Obama’s Trade Agenda Amid Setbacks

WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman today gave a positive picture of the Obama administration’s trade agenda success and reiterated the importance of the president gaining authority to submit two ongoing major trade pacts to Congress for a simple yes-or-no vote.

Froman’s speech at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s East Coast Trade Symposium comes as Obama’s trade agenda faces two major obstacles: no end in sight for the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and congressional reluctance to give the president Trade Promotion Authority.

TPP negotiators from the 12 participating nations said last month that they had failed to strike an agreement on tariffs and market access, such as subsidies and intellectual property, and they gave no indication when an agreement could be reached. Meanwhile, the chances that Congress will grant Obama the TPA increasingly suffer as the midterm elections in early November approach.

Still, the Obama administration can point to some recent momentum on the trade front. The president on Feb. 19 signed an executive order to streamline cargo process through the completion of the International Trade Data System by 2016. The ITDS, often referred to as the “single window,” will allow brokers and shippers to transmit necessary documents electronically in minutes instead of waiting for days and should reduce their need to file duplicative paperwork, saving users both time and money.

“The president’s executive order is a signal and symbol of U.S. leadership, because we have set a high bar now for our trading partners in the WTO in terms of their implementation of WTO commitments,” Froman said.

World Trade Organization members in December reached a trade facilitation agreement aimed at cutting costs and reducing delays at ports of entry by streamlining customs processes. Under the agreement, WTO members will increase customs transparency and begin processing more goods before they hit the borders, Froman said.

WTO members will have to provide advanced rulings on tariff classifications, providing “an alternative to those dockside and warehouse negotiations” with foreign customs agencies, he said. The deal, the first reached by the WTO in its nearly 19-year history, is expected to cut the cost of importing and exporting by 10 percent for developed nations and by more than 14 percent for developing nations.

“We think WTO facilitation agreement will bring new opportunities, savings and certainties to every sector represented in this room,” Froman said.

Froman stressed that the success of trade deals is dependent on how well the rules enforced and pointed to how the Obama administration has brought 17 major trade enforcement actions since 2009. Seven of those were against China.

U.S. exports, which helped lift the U.S. economy after the recession, have grown more than 50 percent in the last five years and four times faster than the general economy, Froman said.

Contact Mark Szakonyi at mszakonyi@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc.