Key GOP Trade Lawmaker Urges Biden to Seek Tariff-Cut Deals

Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Source: Bloomberg

President Joe Biden should rekindle talks on free-trade agreements started by his predecessor to create opportunities for American companies and advance priorities including labor and environment rules, a top House Republican on trade said.

Resuming negotiations with Kenya probably would be the best place to start, said Nebraska Representative Adrian Smith, who leads the House Ways and Means Committee trade subcommittee. The administration also should look at restarting talks with the UK, although those could be more complicated due to differences on agriculture, Smith said.

Biden’s administration hasn’t taken up free-trade talks, opting to pursue its goals through initiatives that don’t require congressional approval, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. It argues that they’re better and faster for meeting current challenges than deals that involve broad tariff negotiations and can take years. The US has launched an investment partnership with Kenya and a trade dialogue with the UK that seek non-tariff ways to facilitate trade.

Smith counters that traditional free-trade pacts create more opportunities for American companies, better strengthen supply chains and are necessary for keeping up with other nations who are negotiating their own deals without the US. He plans to press US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the issue in a full Ways and Means Committee hearing later this month, he said.

“History would show that labor and environmental issues have been elevated because of trade agreements, and it would be a lost opportunity if we just sit on the sidelines and watch other countries engage while the playing field continues to tilt against us,” Smith said in an interview Friday.

Free-trade pacts have been politically fraught in recent years, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated for years under President Barack Obama drawing opposition from key lawmakers in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the TPP in his first days in office. He went on to champion passage of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but that was more a renegotiation of an existing free-trade deal.

Senators Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican, earlier this month introduced a bill that would give the Biden administration fast-track negotiating authority to get a UK deal through Congress. Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, granted under the Trade Act of 1974, expired in 2021. It’s typically been renewed when Biden’s predecessors wanted to pursue specific pacts. Coons said that the bill demonstrates bipartisan support for restarting free-trade talks.

Chamber Position

In an interview last week, US Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark also lamented the lack of negotiations on free-trade deals, saying that 100 deals have been signed around the world since the US last implemented a new one with a new country about a decade ago.

Free-trade pacts are “better for allies, better for national security,” Clark said. “The US is being left behind. There are a lot of ‘Made in America’ goods that would like to get out there.”

USTR last year, in addition to its partners in the Indo-Pacific and Kenya, launched trade negotiations with Taiwan and countries in the Americas, as well as continued discussions with the European Union on a global steel and aluminum arrangement, said Sam Michel, a spokesman for the agency.

“We opened up new markets for our agricultural producers, which will bring US products to customers around the world,” he said. “Some may not agree with our agenda, but Ambassador Tai’s approach puts the focus back on American workers to ensure they benefit from our trade policies.”


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