Today Congressman Mike Turner introduced the Trade Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 3112), which offers an additional way for U.S. companies to have the United States Trade Representative (USTR) act on market access barriers that may be unlawful under any U.S. trade agreement. Currently, U.S. companies face many non-tariff barriers (NTB’s) including onerous labeling requirements, discretionary customs valuation criteria and lack of protection for intellectual property. Because of its cost and complexity, the process of petitioning USTR for assistance with NTB’s that companies believe are unlawful under a trade agreement, is simply not feasible.
“Trade agreements have the potential to increase export opportunities for U.S. businesses by removing market access barriers. However, for U.S. businesses large and small take advantage of opportunities created by trade pacts depends on the government’s willingness to enforce its trade agreements,” said Turner.
While U.S. producers can petition the USTR to take action under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, they seldom do. During 2010 USTR initiated only one Section 301 investigation in response to a petition. To put together a petition that has even a chance of passing USTR’s scrutiny, companies have to hire an expensive Washington law firm to compile a copious amount of information and advocate for them before the USTR. Tens of thousands of dollars later, there is no guarantee that their petition will be accepted, or that the trade practices in question will be addressed in a timely fashion.
“A process which costs tens of thousands of dollars to undertake is not a realistic option for a small or medium-sized company, especially one that is losing business due to unfair trade practices. Only the U.S. government can ensure that U.S. trade agreements are enforced. U.S. companies should have every opportunity to have their complaints investigated and acted on,” added Turner.
Specifically, Turner’s legislation will:
- Utilize a market access complaint process that the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) already has in place as a starting point for possible action under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.
- ITA will have 180 days to resolve interested party complaints that a foreign country is engaging in an act, policy or practice that acts as a non-tariff barrier; if ITA is unable to resolve the issue, the bill mandates that the Secretary of Commerce issue an opinion as to whether the reported NTB meets the criteria for mandatory USTR action under Section 301.
- If Commerce issues an affirmative opinion, the bill mandates that USTR initiate a Section 301 investigation. Further, the bill clarifies that subsections of the law giving USTR discretion not to start an investigation are not applicable and gives interested parties the opportunity to request a hearing.