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  • Conference Report on H.R. 644, Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015

    by Representative Sander M. Levin

    Posted on 2015-12-11

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    LEVIN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    Mr. Speaker, I strongly oppose this conference report. I am disappointed that we have passed up an opportunity for a truly bipartisan action on Customs and trade legislation. The Senate took that opportunity over the summer. It passed a Customs bill by a vote of 78-20 that was truly about Customs and trade enforcement. It included a strong provision to address currency manipulation, the most significant trade enforcement failure over the past decade, and the Senate bill very importantly avoided including wrongful positions and provisions that had nothing to do whatsoever with Customs or trade enforcement.

    The House bill did just the opposite. It passed a bill that seeks to prevent our trade agreements from addressing climate change and weakens current law on human trafficking. It failed to include anything meaningful on currency manipulation, even though just a few years ago this House passed a currency bill very similar to what was in the Senate Customs bill by a vote of 348-79. Because of the partisan and flawed nature of the House Customs bill, just 12 Democrats voted for it.

    This conference report is far more like the fundamentally flawed House bill than the Senate bill. The conference committee rejected the Senate currency provision, as I said, one that had the support of 348 House Members just a few years ago.

    There is much talk about how this bill will create jobs and about economic growth. But make no mistake; over the past decade or so, currency manipulation has cost the U.S., our workers, and our industry between 2 and 5 million jobs. Instead, this conference bill includes a meaningless provision that simply calls for more talk, more deference to the Treasury Department, and no real action.

    The climate change language in the conference report sends just the wrong message as our diplomats are working in Paris with over 150 nations to find an agreement on this threat to our environment. The language in this conference report on climate change is far more than confusing, as some people like to say. It would prevent us, for example, from negotiating provisions like common fuel efficiency standards, a very real possibility in our negotiations with Europe. As reported today from Paris, the Republican Party of the United States may be the only political party anywhere in denial about climate change. That denial is why this provision on climate in this conference report is before us.

    Now, as to human trafficking, this provision weakens current law by allowing for a trade agreement with a tier 3 country to be fast-tracked so long as that country ``has taken concrete actions'' to implement recommended changes, no matter how egregious the conditions are still in place. Countries on tier 3 are the worst actors, countries that the State Department has concluded ``do not fully comply with the minimum standards under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.'' We need to get these countries to meet minimum standards on trafficking, certainly well before we enter into a trade investment relationship with them. Unfortunately, this conference report does not get us there.

    These and other fundamental flaws outweigh the enforcement provisions that were included in the conference report. Most of the enforcement provisions are weak, and I think they are being oversold. For example, the bill establishes an interagency enforcement center, but that has already existed for several years.

    It renews the Super 301, which requires the USTR to report regularly on its trade enforcement priorities, but this is something an administration can already do on its own, just as the Clinton administration did.

    The bill establishes, also, a new trade enforcement trust fund, but those funds still need to be appropriated and paid for, just as they did in the past.

    It requires the ITC to make information related to imports available on its Web site, information that already exists in other forms in the same Web site.

    All this is very disappointing because there are positive aspects of this bill, such as the ENFORCE Act that my colleague Linda Sanchez has spearheaded, which will help to address the circumvention of antidumping and countervailing duties to address unfair trade. All of the deep flaws in this conference report far overshadow this provision and the real Customs provisions that have long had bipartisan support.

    Going further, the bill includes an Internet tax provision added by the [[Page H9288]] conferees that has absolutely no place in this Customs bill. It was neither in the House nor the Senate Customs bill. Not only is it not a Customs measure, it is not even a trade measure. Dropping this provision into a conference report at the last minute and with no warning is no way to legislate. It is the opposite of regular order.

    Indeed, this conference report does not tell it straight. As I said, it deletes the only provision that reflects meaningful legislation on currency, which has devastated U.S. jobs and economic growth, legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House previously.

    {time} 1115 It keeps provisions inserted by the House to encourage Republicans who oppose action on climate change, as I said, at the same time the world is meeting in Paris, thwarting further possible action on climate change in trade negotiations, including with Europe.

    It tones down a provision which had teeth on human sex and labor trafficking.

    It sneaks in another provision totally unrelated to Customs, as I said, never being discussed at the only meeting of the conference committee, relating to taxation of Internet access. It leaves in the dust the issue of trying to even out the taxation of sales on the Internet with sales at hardworking brick-and-mortar stores.

    For all of these reasons, all of them, I strongly urge a ``no'' vote.

    I reserve the balance of my time.

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