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Bipartisan Bill Links TAA Renewal, UK FTA; Brady Skeptical

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in a bid to break the impasse in negotiations around the trade title in the China package, introduced a bill that would renew trade adjustment assistance and pass a limited trade promotion authority that could only be used for a free trade agreement with the U.K.

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The Securing Privileged Economic, Commercial, Investment, And Legal Rights to Ensure Longstanding Atlantic Trade and Investment Opportunities and Nurture Security, Happiness, Innovation, and Prosperity Act, or the SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP Act, is co-sponsored by Portman and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and was introduced on June 22.

In opening remarks at the first meeting of the massive conference committee to merge the House and Senate versions of a bill on competing with China, Democrat after Democrat said that renewing TAA must be in the trade title, because the program expires in July (see 2205120047). Portman has said this issue is hanging up negotiations, because Republicans don't want to renew TAA unless the U.S. is also lowering tariffs abroad to help U.S. exporters (see 2206170068).

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, and a conference committee member who has a lot of leverage in the negotiation, told an International Trade Today reporter that while he appreciates Portman's creative ideas, a TPA that applies to just one country "doesn't offer much hope for a trade agenda that would warrant an extension of TAA."

Moreover, although the SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP Act says any FTA would need to uphold peace and stability in Northern Ireland, Brady said that the way London has tried to manage Brexit with regard to goods trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain "will continue to be a major barrier for a U.K. agreement." That's because Ireland is a member of the EU and Northern Ireland and Ireland have a soft border. For that to work, the EU insisted on customs checks in the Irish Sea, so that non-compliant British goods would not be sent to Northern Ireland and then make their way into Ireland. The U.K. government originally agreed to that, but has backed away from it. Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both have expressed alarm at this development, and what it could mean for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He said that is not even the only issue. Even if Congress were to pass a TPA, "This moratorium on new trade agreements seems pretty firm. We've seen no signals from the White House they're interested in changing it. And so there'd have to be a much stronger, iron-clad commitment, to even begin this discussion."