by Joanne Thornton
As we approach what traditionally has been a month of recess in Washington, the policy agenda remains as hot as the weather. Unleashed by the Trump administration like a pack of greyhounds in the months following the president’s inauguration, several trade initiatives are now approaching decision points.
Section 232. An especially prominent one — the Section 232 investigation into whether steel imports are harming US national security — appears to have slowed its pace. Perhaps it will be subsumed within the exercise resulting from the president’s most recent executive order, directing the Defense Department to lead a nine-month study of the US defense industrial base. The same may be true of the Section 232 aluminum investigation. And,
Trade Deficit. Even so, there are plenty of other impending reports and/or decisions that will keep trade mavens busy this summer. Two are overdue, and could pop up any day: an “Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits,” now a month late.
Pipeline Steel. The other overdue report is a Commerce Department plan — technically due last Sunday — for use of American steel in pipelines.
Other upcoming items include:
• Enforcement Priorities. This is a report to Congress by USTR on trade enforcement priorities, due by July 31 under Section 601 of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (PL 114-125). Essentially the latest iteration of the 1974 Trade Act’s “Super 301” instrument, the provision requires USTR to focus on “those acts, policies, and practices the elimination of which is likely to have the most significant potential to increase United States economic growth.”
• China – The NME Issue. The Department of Commerce is reviewing its policies to determine whether China should continue to be treated as a “non-market economy” (NME) under US antidumping and countervailing duty laws. A finding is expected prior to mid-August, and it is widely anticipated that the Department will reaffirm current practice. Even if not surprising, such a decision would accentuate a deep rift with China. Beijing has challenged the use of NME methodology by the European Union and the United States in what USTR Robert Lighthizer has termed “the most serious litigation matter we have at the WTO right now.” Ambassador Lighthizer made that comment at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 21, and he asserted further that “a bad decision with respect to NME status for China . . . would be cataclysmic for the WTO. “
• NAFTA Modernization. Mid-August also will see the formal initiation of NAFTA modernization negotiations, a process that the Trump administration hopes will produce more balanced trade among the three partners and a new and improved template for future free trade agreements.
Congress is watching and asserting its authority under Article 1 of the US Constitution. Stakeholders are having their say. While some further adjustments in direction and/or speed are possible, by summer’s end, America’s trade policy is likely to have been set on a transformative path.
First published as TTALK Quote No. 47 of 2017.
© 2017 The Global Business Dialogue, Inc.