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This Week In Trade

WTO Bali, TPP, TTIP Hearing Amid Spying Fallout, Farm Bill Conference

Posted: October 28, 2013

Posted: October 28, 2013

This week is a critical one for members of the World Trade Organization as they try to cobble together a partial trade package for the December ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia. Also on tap for this week are the launch of a congressional coalition in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and a meeting in Congress aimed at reconciling the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.

This comes on top of a very busy schedule for U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who will meet with trade ministers from Mexico and Australia on Oct. 29 and from New Zealand on Oct. 31, all three of which are TPP participants. TPP agriculture issues will be on the agenda of an Oct. 28 meeting between U.S. Agriculture Negotiator Islam Siddiqui and David Carter, the Speaker of the New Zealand's Parliament.

Froman will also focus on TTIP when he and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro meet with the EU Director-General of Trade Jean-Luc Demarty on Oct. 31. In addition, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Dan Mullaney will meet with government and private-sector stakeholders in Berlin and Paris as well as Brussels from Oct. 28-30. On Oct. 29, Mullaney will give a key note address in a TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue Forum in Brussels.

These will be in addition to meetings between U.S. and EU officials during a TTIP intersessional that sources said is slated to take place in Brussels from Nov. 11-15. A number of negotiating groups are slated to meet during the intersessional, including the one on regulatory cooperation, one source said.

Froman also will participate in the Coalition of Services Industries Global Summit on Oct. 30 and in the SelectUSA Summit on Nov. 1.

In Geneva, WTO members are struggling to meet a deadline set by Director-General Roberto Azevedo of identifying all potential compromises in the Bali negotiations by the end of October. The chairmen who have guided the negotiations were poised by today (Oct. 28) to present draft language outlining these potential compromises.

Azevedo said late last week he still believes it is possible for WTO members to produce a package for the Bali meeting, but that a lot of work still remains to be done in just a few days and that it is still an open question whether a deal will come together at all.

The talks -- which cover trade facilitation, agriculture and development issues -- got even more complicated when four African countries last week circulated a proposal for a specific outcome in Bali on cotton. The proposal calls on developed countries to provide duty-free, quota-free access to cotton from least-developed countries by the beginning of 2015, an agreement by the end of 2014 to resolve the longstanding dispute over cotton subsidies, and the immediate elimination by developed countries of export subsidies for cotton, according to Geneva sources.

The U.S. opposed a similar proposal when it was put forth ahead of the last WTO ministerial in 2011 (Inside U.S. Trade, Dec. 23, 2011).

On TPP, four bipartisan House members -- Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA), Ron Kind (D-WI) Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) -- on Oct. 29 will kick off a new group to bolster congressional support for the trade initiative. All but Meeks are members of the Ways and Means Committee, and Kind leads the pro-trade New Democrat Coalition. The launch of the group, announced by Reichert in September, was delayed by the government shutdown.

Meanwhile, TPP countries today wrapped up a five-day intersessional meeting on intellectual property in Tokyo. They are holding a separate intersessional meeting this week on rules of origin and government procurement.

TTIP will be the focus of a Senate Finance hearing on Oct. 30, which is the first full committee hearing on trade since the June 6 confirmation hearing of U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. The TTIP hearing will feature only private-sector witnesses, namely representatives from Federal Express, the Montana Grain Growers Association, Eli Lilly and the National Chicken Council, according to the committee website.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have endorsed the idea of the TTIP, and laid out their goals in a letter to Froman earlier this year.

Finance has discussed the possibility of a hearing on granting the president fast-track negotiating authority since July, but has not yet moved forward.

Despite efforts by Froman to lay the groundwork for congressional approval of a new fast-track bill and a general endorsement for it last week by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the timetable for fast-track action remains murky. In a presentation to lobbyists late last week, aides for the chairmen and ranking members of the trade committees gave no indications on how much progress they have made on drafting a fast-track bill or on when such a bill may be released, according to participants.

In a related development, Froman met on Oct. 23 with a group of House Democratic freshmen, according to an Oct. 23 press release from Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), who co-hosted the meeting. The release said the meeting provided lawmakers a chance to ask questions, air concerns and gain a better understanding of the trade debates surround TPP and TTIP “that Congress may consider in the coming months.”

The TTIP is moving ahead amid increasing fallout from revelations that the U.S. government spied on European leaders. Last week, France and Germany announced they would seek talks with U.S. to negotiate a new deal on surveillance by the end of the year.

Against that backdrop, members of the European parliament will visit Washington this week to air their own grievances about U.S. digital surveillance activities and discuss the future of several deals that allow for greater data sharing by companies and authorities across the Atlantic, including the Safe Harbor agreement. That deal allows companies that gather data on EU citizens to transfer it back to the jurisdiction of the U.S. for processing or storage, provided that those firms uphold certain principles.

The delegation will meet with members of Congress and executive branch officials, and will also hold a press conference on Oct. 30. One informed source said this week that it is likely that the terms under which U.S. companies can transfer data across EU borders will be tightened as a result of the U.S. surveillance, but not to the degree sought by the European Parliament.

Also in town this week is European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding, who is leading a commission effort to review existing protections for EU citizens’ data. Along with other EU officials, Reding has warned that the Safe Harbor deal could be at risk in the wake of the spying allegations.

On Oct. 30, key lawmakers from both chambers of Congress will hold their first public conference on the farm bill, which brings together all 41 conferees to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. Most controversial are proposed cuts to the federal food stamp program, along with questions on how to structure of certain safety net programs for growers of commodities like corn, soy, rice and peanuts.

Also taking place this week are the Oct. 30 Global Services Summit organized by the Coalition of Services Industries and the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 SelectUSA Investment Summit convened by the U.S. government.

Froman is slated to speak at the Global Services Summit along with Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb and European Commission Director-General for Trade Jean-Luc Demarty. Froman will also speak at the second day of the SelectUSA Summit, which is aimed at highlighting opportunities for foreign companies to invest in the United States.