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This Week In Trade

NAFTA, flurry of WTO activity take center stage of trade policy discussion

Posted: February 21, 2017

With Congress out of session, discussion of House Republicans' border-adjustable tax plan takes a back seat this week to issues such as the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and an uptick of activity at the World Trade Organization.

NAFTA renegotiation is likely to come up during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Feb. 22-23 visit to Mexico City. He will meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and the Mexican ministers for Interior, Foreign Relations, Finance, National Defense, and Navy. Trade is listed among the topics for discussion.

Former U.S. and Canadian officials on Wednesday will also discuss how U.S. trade ties are expected to evolve with Mexico and Canada at an Atlantic Council event. Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and former Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay headline the panel, which will also include Paula Stern, former U.S. International Trade Commission chairwoman and founder and chairwoman of the Stern Group, and several scholars.

Geneva will be bustling this week as negotiations ramp up ahead of December's ministerial, the Director-General Roberto Azevêdo is expected to be appointed by members to a second term as head of the WTO, and the Trade Facilitation Agreement is expected to enter into force.

Ambassadors -- in the U.S. case, Deputy Mission Chief Chris Wilson -- will meet on Thursday to discuss potential outcomes for the December's ministerial in Buenos Aires. Agricultural domestic support, e-commerce, public stockholding, and India's proposal for a Trade Facilitation Agreement for Services are all expected to be raised.

That meeting will precede Friday's General Council meeting, which will include the expected reappointment of Azevêdo, the ratification of the TFA, and the appointment of new WTO officers. It will also include the U.S.' biennial defense of the Jones Act, which restricts cabotage in the U.S. to American-flagged vessels.

The WTO's Committee on Government Procurement will have a regular meeting followed by a negotiating session on Thursday that is expected to center around ongoing accessions, including China's. The U.S. and EU have called for China to submit another revised offer. China has been negotiating its accession to the Government Procurement Agreement since 2007. Negotiations on Australia's and Russia's accession will also continue.

Back in the United States, President Trump will hold a "listening session" with manufacturing CEOs on Thursday, followed the same day by a dinner with The Business Council.

The ITC on Friday will decide whether to conduct an oral argument on U.S. Steel's Section 337 antitrust claim against Chinese manufacturers and will include reviewing Administrative Law Judge Dee Lord's dismissal of the antitrust claim. If the ITC decides to proceed with the case, oral arguments will be scheduled for March 14.

Written comments and notices of intent to testify are due from foreign governments on Thursday for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative's public hearing for the 2017 Special 301 report on intellectual property issues. Industry groups in their comments took aim at India's recently announced National Intellectual Property Rights Policy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday will release two reports -- one on the economic importance of information communication technology services and challenges created by forced localization policies and the other on best practices for privacy regulators. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen will give a keynote address at the Chamber's launch event. The Chamber's Vice President for Global Regulatory Cooperation Sean Heather, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation President Robert Atkinson and former Director of Digital Economy at the Department of Commerce Alan Davidson will also speak at the event.

Also on Wednesday, the Woodrow Wilson Center will look into how Trump's trade policy will impact Brazil. That discussion will feature Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics; Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, director for Latin America at the Eurasia Group; Diego Bonomo, senior director for policy at the Brazil-U.S. Business Council; Marcos Jank, vice president of corporate affairs and business development at the International Food Policy Research Institute; and Paulo Sotero, director of the WWC Brazil Institute.

On Friday, EU Ambassador to the U.S. David O'Sullivan will hold a panel discussion with former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and Rock Creek Global Advisers managing director Michael Smart on how the U.S. and EU can work together on international trade policies.

George Washington University will explore what Latin America can expect from the Trump administration on Friday with a panel featuring former chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank Augusto de la Torre, Woodrow Wilson Center executive vice president Andrew Selee and others. -- Brett Fortnam (bfortnam@iwpnews.com)