Trade: A Bit More Than Tough Talk

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Trade: A Bit More Than Tough Talk

CQ Roll – Beyond all the deep partisan divisions on economic policy, there’s one thing that lawmakers of just about all ideological stripes seem to agree on: the need to more aggressively enforce U.S. trade laws.

The importance of the trade remedy system in the current political and economic environment was underscored when a federal appeals court ruled in December, in a case involving Chinese-made tires, that the Commerce Department does not have the authority to assess countervailing duties, which are intended to offset the benefits of illegal subsidies, on products from “non-market economies.”

That label applies to China and a few other highly regulated economies, such as Vietnam. The administration is now asking Congress to pass legislation ensuring the Commerce Department can levy countervailing duties. The top House Republican tax writer, Dave Camp (Mich.), quickly agreed to work on targeted legislation, and Ohio’s two ideologically opposite Senators — Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman — pressed their Senate leaders to act. Brown is an opponent of recent trade policy; Portman served as U.S. trade representative under Bush. But on this issue, they’re in agreement. “We stand ready to work with you to defend our government’s authority to defend workers and manufacturers from unfair trade,” the duo said.

But aside from this unusual case, enforcement lies in the hands of the executive branch. Indeed, in the middle of February, the administration unveiled a new Interagency Trade Enforcement Center aimed at better coordinating trade enforcement efforts across the federal government, another move that does not require Congressional action.

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