If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Trade: Congress May Be Asked To Grant White House Special Authority

by Glenn Hess
January 21, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 3

The Obama Administration may ask Congress this year to pass legislation that would give the White House trade promotion authority. The authority would allow the Administration to wrap up talks on an Asia-Pacific trade pact and pursue other initiatives, such as a potential free-trade agreement with the European Union.

Trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track authority, expired in mid-2007, and Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Senate at the time had no interest in extending it for former president George W. Bush.

A trade agreement negotiated under such authority must be brought up for a vote in each chamber of Congress within 90 days of being submitted by the White House. No amendments are allowed. Trade promotion authority is considered crucial for U.S. negotiators because it gives foreign governments assurance that Congress will not try to change a deal after negotiations are completed.

U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk told the House Ways & Means Committee last year that the Administration wants the authority restored, but he declined to say when the White House would make a formal request.

Trade policy analysts say that request will likely come this year because the Administration hopes to soon conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with 10 other countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

“The timetable to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership is 2013, so we expect to see trade promotion authority come to Capitol Hill,” says Justine Freisleben, a government relations manager at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA), a trade group for the specialty chemical industry.

The authority, Freisleben notes, has already been discussed by numerous members of Congress in prior hearings on trade issues, indicating that members are ready to consider it. “It’s just a matter of when the President asks for it,” she says.

The chemical industry and other manufacturers will also work to persuade Congress to pass legislation that provides temporary relief from import tariffs on hundreds of chemicals and other raw materials that are not made in the U.S.

Despite bipartisan support, lawmakers did not pass a miscellaneous tariff bill (MTB) before the 112th Congress adjourned on Jan. 3. That measure included provisions from more than 2,000 bills introduced by nearly 170 members of the House and Senate. The last MTB, passed by Congress in 2010, expired at the end of 2012. The legislation suspended duties on more than 600 products.

“Congress’ failure to pass the MTB has resulted in a tax increase on manufacturers in the U.S., hurting their global competitiveness and putting jobs at risk,” says Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, the nation’s largest industrial trade group.

“It is currently 20% more expensive to manufacture in the U.S. compared to our largest trading partners, and the lack of an MTB will only widen that gap,” Dempsey asserts.

Passing a tariff relief bill is “an urgent matter” and a top trade priority, says Rep. Kevin P. Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Trade. “The MTB is a jobs bill, pure and simple. Suspending duties temporarily on products such as manufacturing inputs is an essential step in helping to make U.S. manufacturers more competitive and creating U.S. jobs,” Brady says.

Freisleben notes that SOCMA met with several lawmakers on the issue before the 112th Congress ended. “While many congressional offices are familiar with the issue due to our efforts, we will focus our energies on educating the new members in the coming months,” she says. “The MTB bill will need to be reintroduced, and we will urge lawmakers to take swift action on it.”


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.