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Rep. Sanford to introduce legislation mandating congressional tariff approval


Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) plans to introduce legislation that would give Congress the power to approve or deny trade remedy recommendations from federal agencies before they are sent to the White House.

The “Promoting Responsible and Free Trade Act” would give Capitol Hill the ability to weigh in on any trade restrictions before they are imposed by holding public hearings and requesting more data. Congress would also be given the authority to approve or deny tariff recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Commission, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Commerce Department, according to a preview of the legislation seen by Inside U.S. Trade. Sanford's office is seeking co-sponsors for the legislation, which is still being finalized.

The bill is aimed at reviewing Section 201, Section 301 and Section 232 restrictions under consideration by the administration. It expands upon a House bill presented earlier this year that would compel the president to submit national security-based tariffs for congressional approval. That bill, introduced in July by Sanford and others, served as companion legislation to a bill introduced by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) that has yet to find traction. GOP congressional leaders have expressed reluctance to move such bills forward because they believe the president is unlikely to sign them.

For actions taken under Section 201 of 1974 Trade Act, also known as the safeguard statute, Sanford’s bill would require that the ITC send its recommendations to Congress for a maximum period of 60 days before trade restrictions could be imposed by the administration. Congress, after reviewing the ITC's report, could pass a joint resolution of disapproval within that time frame to halt the president’s imposition of any safeguard duties.

As written, the safeguard statute mandates that ITC submit a report of recommendations to the president once the investigation is concluded. If the president decides to impose any actions based on that report, the administration must submit a report to Congress outlining what is planned and the “reasons for taking the action,” according to Section 201. Additionally, “If the action taken by the President differs from the action required to be recommended by the Commission under section 202(e)(1), the President shall state in detail the reasons for the difference” in the report to Congress, it states.

The ITC is also required to submit a report to the president and Congress for safeguard actions that exceed three years. The Commission then must submit an analysis on the “results of the monitoring” of the restrictions halfway through the full duration of duties.

Under Section 201, the U.S. in February imposed a 30 percent tariff on all foreign crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules in 2018 -- with tariffs reducing by 5 percent over a four-year period -- and issued an exemption for the first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells in each of those four years. For large residential washers, the U.S. applied a tariff-rate quota on all washing machine imports -- except those from Canada -- for a three-year period.

Sanford's bill would also apply to actions taken under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, mandating a similar review period for Congress. The legislation would require that USTR send a report to Congress for a maximum review period of 60 days, allowing lawmakers to pass a joint resolution of disapproval within that time frame before any restrictions are implemented.

For actions taken under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, the bill would give the Defense Department and Capitol Hill larger roles in the approval process. The Commerce Department oversees Section 232 investigations under current law, which mandates that the defense secretary be consulted.

Sanford's bill would mandate that the Defense Department submit to the president a report on the national security implications of imports under investigation.

Additionally, if the president determines trade restrictions are necessary, the Commerce Department would be required to send a report to Congress on tariff-level recommendations, the preview states. Congress would have 60 days to review them. Only if the “tariff report” was approved by lawmaker would it be submitted to the White House for final approval and implementation.

The bill would also instate a two-year retroactivity period for all Section 232 restrictions and allow Congress to review any existing provisions implemented under the statute.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and others last month introduced similar Section 232 legislation aimed at delegating the authority to initiate probes to the Defense Department and giving Congress a more significant role in assessing proposed restrictions. As of Sept. 12, that bill was backed by a bipartisan group of six co-sponsors.

Sanford is in his last few months in Congress after losing a primary election in June.