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This Week In Trade

Trump's ag, labor picks get hearing; steel forum, DSB action also on tap

Posted: March 20, 2017

Confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, steel talks in Paris and a Dispute Settlement Body meeting at the World Trade Organization highlight what's shaping up as a jam-packed week for trade policy.

President Trump's picks to lead the Agriculture and Labor departments -- which have responsibility for multiple trade-related programs -- will get their days on the Hill this week with former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and former U.S. attorney Alex Acosta scheduled to appear before the Senate Agriculture and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, respectively, on Wednesday.

Perdue has won the support of a number of agriculture groups, including the American Farm Bureau, National Pork Producers Council, National Farmers Union, American Sugar Alliance and the Sweetener Users Association. Senators could press him over agricultural priorities of the North American Free Trade Agreement or sugar suspension agreement renegotiations with Mexico.

Acosta is widely seen as a less controversial pick for Labor secretary than Trump's first nominee, Andrew Pudzer. If confirmed, Acosta will head the department leading the ongoing labor disputes under free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Guatemala.

Manufacturing policy -- a key talking point for Trump throughout the campaign and in the early days of the administration -- will be highlighted by National Trade Council director Peter Navarro during the eighth annual Defense Programs conference on Wednesday. The NTC's only other publicly known member, Alexander Gray, is tasked with focusing on the defense industrial base.

The global steel glut will also be a focus this week in Paris as the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity is meeting at the working level on Monday and Tuesday. The forum was created in December 2016 to address issues behind the global steel crisis and is facilitated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) secretariat. The group, which consists of G20 members and other steel producing countries including China, is slated to meet regularly in preparation for an annual meeting with G20 ministers. It met for the first time at the working level on Feb. 21 in Berlin.

That meeting will be followed by a meeting of the OECD steel committee meeting on Thursday and Friday. The OECD steel committee "provides a unique forum for governments to come together to address the evolving challenges facing the steel industry, and identify political solutions to encourage open and transparent markets for steel," according to its website.

The World Trade Organization will also be bustling this week, headlined by Tuesday's Dispute Settlement Body meeting. At that meeting, China is set to formally request a panel with the European Union -- but not the U.S. -- over its treatment as a non-market economy in trade remedy investigations. The U.S. was named along with the EU in China's initial consultation request, but China is currently only pursuing a case against the EU in what some are describing as a “divide and conquer” strategy.

India is expected to make a second panel request against the U.S. over state-level incentives for renewable energy programs that have domestic content requirements. The U.S. at the last DSB meeting in February blocked India's first panel request and while characterizing India's complaint as “purely political,” claiming the case was brought only in response to the U.S. victory in a dispute over local content requirements for a national solar program in India. The U.S. cannot block a second panel request.

The UK's Minister of State for Trade Policy Mark Ian Price will also be in Geneva on Tuesday to meet with WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo. The visit comes right after Downing Street's announcement that it will formally notify the European Union of its intent to break away from the economic bloc. The UK will have to renegotiate its tariff schedule as well as certain other WTO commitments once it leaves the EU, as those commitments are set by Brussels and apply to the EU as a whole.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics will take a look at the long-term implications of the UK's departure from the EU on Thursday. Their panel will feature Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King's College, London; Simeon Djankov, senior fellow at Peterson; Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at Peterson; Nicolas Veron, senior fellow at Peterson; and Adam Posen, president of Peterson.

National Agriculture Day is Tuesday and is the backdrop of an address by Ray Starling, the special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance, to the Agriculture Council of America at the National Press Club that day. Starling's address will be followed by a panel discussion that includes National Corn Growers Association Chairman Chip Bowling and Farm Bureau chief economist and deputy executive director for public policy Bob Young.

The run of think tank events that will touch upon renegotiating NAFTA will also continue this week when the Woodrow Wilson Center examines the U.S.-Mexican relationship during the Trump administration. The panel will include former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, Mexican Ambassador to the United States Geronimo Gutierrez, three former U.S. ambassadors to Mexico, and former Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan.

The Washington International Trade Association on Thursday will examine what enforcement options are available to the Trump administration and how Trump's trade agenda will affect jobs, consumers, and the global trading system. That panel will consist of Chuck Levy, partner at Cassidy, Levy, Kent; Daniel Ikenson, director of the Cato Institute Center for Trade Policy Studies; Terence Stewart, managing partner at Stewart and Stewart; and Stacy Ettinger, a partner at K&L Gates.

Chile's ambassador to the U.S., Juan Gabriel Valdes, will be at the National Foreign Trade Council on Thursday to discuss the outcomes of last week's trade summit and the path forward on trade. The discussion will be moderated by NFTC President Rufus Yerxa. -- Brett Fortnam (bfortnam@iwpnews.com)