New Year, New Crack at Critical Customs Legislation (The Hill)

Current customs rules that have not fully embraced technological and trade advances cost manufacturers in the United States billions of dollars a year in increased bottlenecks, operating expenses and unfair competition. Fortunately, we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, as the Senate is slated to vote on legislation—a conference report, no less—that would put in place long overdue modernizations to our nation’s outdated customs and border practices.

The Trade Facilitation and Enforcement Act would provide the most significant statutory update to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) activities and policies in more than 10 years. This legislation would provide concrete and meaningful improvements to customs and related rules and would be the first reauthorization of CBP at the Department of Homeland Security. The conference report, a compromise agreement between differing versions of the House and Senate legislation, was up for consideration at the end of 2015. The House moved quickly and strongly to pass it, but the Senate has yet to act. With the legislation back on the docket this year, manufacturers of all sizes urge the Senate to act now.

The conference report includes several provisions that manufacturers consider critical to growing, sustaining and creating jobs in the United States. These provisions enjoy broad bipartisan support in both houses of Congress and have the support of a multitude of business groups, including ours.

The conference report includes modernized CBP processes, and streamlined procedures that will cut red tape and facilitate legitimate trade—such as raising de minimis thresholds to eliminate unnecessary paperwork and the exemption from duty for container residue. Reauthorizing CBP and promoting trade facilitation initiatives are critical to manufacturers that import necessary inputs from suppliers overseas and require access to global markets to grow.

Additionally, the conference report will address enforcement issues that are a priority for manufacturers. Despite years of work, CBP has failed to provide domestic manufacturing industries with an effective system to properly classify unfairly traded imports that are seeking to evade trade remedy rules. As such, manufacturers support provisions in the conference report that would create a transparent and regularized process for CBP to review and act to reclassify such imports. It is long past time for establishing new processes with timelines and judicial review to ensure that CBP is accountable and fully enforcing longstanding laws important to a robust manufacturing sector in the United States.

The conference report also contains provisions creating new tools to protect and enforce intellectual property theft at the border and to address weak intellectual property protection overseas. Intellectual property is the lifeblood for manufacturers large and small, and the United States needs to be at the forefront domestically and internationally of ensuring strong enforcement of intellectual property at home and abroad.

In that vein, manufacturers also support a provision in the conference report to permanently extend the internet tax moratorium. The Internet has become a critical piece of infrastructure for manufacturers in the United States, and permanently extending the ban on state and local taxes on internet access will continue to foster investment in broadband networks.

When Congress took action on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), trade preferences and Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation earlier this year, many congressional leaders made promises to complete work on the trade facilitation and enforcement legislation. That commitment is critical to keep given the increased importance of modernized, strong customs processes and full enforcement of trade rules as the United States seeks to expand market access with new trade agreements negotiated under TPA and with developing countries through the renewed trade preference programs.

With a weak global economy and growing competitors overseas, the global marketplace has become more competitive than ever before. We need updated and effective policies and accountable government agencies to ensure that manufacturers in the United States are not competing with one or both hands tied behind their back. As we head into the new year, it is time for Congress to keep its promises and help grow manufacturing in the United States by finally passing the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act.

Dempsey is the vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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