Inside U.S. Trade Looks to Alliance of GSP Countries and GSP Coalition of Importers about GSP Renewal

Courtesy of Inside U.S. Trade

Businesses and Countries Hope Sen. Wyden May Break GSP Deadlock, Urge Speedy Renewal

More than 450 business groups and companies urged members of Congress in a letter last week to renew the expired Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program immediately and have been following up with congressional offices this week, amid signs that the program’s most likely vehicle – Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – is moving slowly given the change of chairmen in the Senate Finance Committee.

GSP supporters are pinning their hopes on Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) as incoming chairman of the Finance Committee to find a way to overcome the objections of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that have stalled the bill. Coburn objects to financing the GSP by shifting the timing of corporate tax payments in a way that would meet the letter of the law requiring funding offsets for the tariff revenue lost through GSP.

“Sen. Wyden has seemed to be a real consensus builder,” said Marideth Sandler, facilitator for the Alliance for GSP. “So we would like to work with him to try to work with Coburn and others to try and overcome the funding objections.”

Separately, another GSP supporter said that speedy renewal of the program is something business beneficiaries want to raise with Wyden, who he noted has never opposed GSP in the past. But the source acknowledged that it was uncertain if this effort would succeed. “With all of the changes taking place, it is hard to really nail down anything,” he said.

Sandler said the alliance would be reaching out to Wyden in the next seven to 10 days, depending on when current Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is confirmed as ambassador to China. She stressed the importance of reopening these conversations, given that there are not really other potential vehicles other than TPA. Baucus’ nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 4.

Wyden is also expected to change a pending TPA bill developed by Baucus, Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). That process will take time, sources acknowledged. “It is becoming too expensive and too costly in terms of company impacts to wait for TPA,” Sandler said.

This message was backed up in the letter from a large coalition of companies and business groups.

“Over the past five and a half months, American companies like ours – and our members – have paid nearly $2 million per day in higher taxes while waiting for Congress to renew the program,” according to the letter. “The 463 signatories on this letter are writing with a simple message: We cannot afford to wait any longer.”

The letter calls on members of Congress to pass a retroactive renewal bill immediately. “We look forward to working with you to pass this legislation as soon as possible,” it concludes.

The letter is signed by groups such as the American Apparel & Footwear Association, Coalition for GSP, Consumer Electronics Association, Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America, National Foreign Trade Council, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as more than 400 companies organized by state.

Sandler also said that it was important for the Obama administration to take a stronger role in helping to facilitate such discussions, noting that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has been focused on other trade initiatives like TPA and the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

“There is a proactive stance that the administration could be taking to help resolve this impasse as well,” she said. “This is 128 or so countries, who are major strategic partners of the United States, who have helped in the war on terror, and they feel that there needs to be a stronger … proactive effort and understanding by the administration that GSP needs to be renewed as quickly as possible.”

Ahead of the program’s expiration on July 31, 2013, supporters attempted to move GSP under unanimous consent in the Senate. But that effort failed when Coburn objected to funding offsets in the bill and failed to reach a deal with Senate Finance Committee leaders over an alternative way to pay for it.

Coburn is leaving the Senate after this Congress, which another GSP source said could serve as an opening for GSP renewal if TPA does not move this year. But a GSP supporter said that efforts are focused on trying to ensure renewal as soon as possible, rather than in 11 months.

The letter, publicly released on Jan. 30 but dated Jan. 27, is signed by more than 450 companies and business groups and does not explicitly mention TPA, also known as fast track. The GSP supporter noted that the letter was sent two days before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he is not interested in bringing a fast-track bill to the Senate floor anytime soon.

Leaders of the trade committees have not made a decision on what items they would be willing to package with a TPA bill, though staff has said in the past that any additions must increase the support for the bill.

The GSP supporter said that the program would be a prime candidate for inclusion in a TPA package. “It does have broad support,” he said. “It has struggled, like anything, to get unanimous consent, but there isn’t substantive opposition to GSP. Therefore, it’s something that we can say is a no-brainer to include.”

Another GSP source agreed, saying that GSP was unlikely to buy votes, but that no one would likely oppose TPA over the program either.

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