Over the past several years, the federal government has continued to focus on trade issues – both in Congress and through various administrative actions. Even in a divided Congress, there will continue to be opportunities and interest from both parties to engage in meaningful policy actions related to trade. Furthermore, with the current partisan divide in Congress, there could be more efforts from the Biden administration to utilize their executive capabilities to advance trade agenda items without needing congressional approval.
In an increasingly complicated policy landscape, due to both partisan divisions on trade issues and the broader global ecosystem, the lay of the land on trade issues has considerably shifted for the 118th Congress.
Traditional committees of jurisdiction will focus on top trade programs. Congressional committees that typically hold oversight on trade issues – namely the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee – have several items on their agenda that will ultimately receive their priority. At the top of the list will be the renewal of important trade programs that have lapsed, especially the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB), Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).
Look beyond traditional trade-focused committees for broader impact. There is potential for more activity in other congressional committees beyond traditional trade issues. It is important to remember that trade issues extend beyond the jurisdiction of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. For example, there will be stronger efforts from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) has already emphasized that he will conduct strict oversight of the Biden administration’s implementation of export controls – a trade program that is operated by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS).
China will continue to be a focus in trade policy. With the Biden administration’s comment period on reviewing the ongoing Section 301 tariffs recently coming to a close, stakeholders are closely watching to see if these tariffs will continue, be more limited, or be removed. Nonetheless, there are several ongoing issues on the horizon with China that will continue to receive a focus in trade policy – including forced labor, anti-vailing and counter-dumping, sensitive technology exports, and more. Furthermore, the establishment of the new House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party will provide another avenue for lawmakers to engage on trade-related issues specific to the Chinese government.
The Farm Bill will be an opportunity for bipartisan action on trade. It is often forgotten that the Farm Bill includes its own Trade title, which focuses on promoting U.S. agricultural exports and supporting international food assistance programs. With Farm Bill reauthorization at the top of the priority list for 2023, this legislation offers the chance for lawmakers to achieve strong bipartisan, bicameral support for trade policies in the agriculture and food sphere, which could facilitate more momentum for other trade-related policy negotiations.
There will be a focus on trade from a smaller number of champions. While trade issues were not top of mind for a majority of members of Congress over the past several years, there has been a small group of dedicated lawmakers who remain engaged and active in this policy space. There will be significant opportunity for these champions to work across the aisle and across the House and Senate to advance trade policies. Stakeholders should look out for a bipartisan group of lawmakers to increasingly encourage the Biden administration to enter more free trade agreements – especially with allies where a formalized agreement does not yet exist (such as the United Kingdom).