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FTA votes expected as China currency bill advances

China currency legislation has advanced in the Senate and Free Trade Agreements (FTA) are scheduled for votes in the House and Senate the week of Oct. 10.

China currency legislation has advanced in the Senate and Free Trade Agreements (FTA) are scheduled for votes in the House and Senate the week of Oct. 10.

A final vote in the Senate on legislation targeting China's intervention in currency exchange markets is now scheduled for Oct. 11. Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., pressed to wrap up the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011 (S.1619) before the Senate takes up the President's jobs bill and three pending FTAs with Panama, South Korea and Colombia. The Senate voted 62-38 to invoke cloture and cut off debate on the China currency legislation but further progress on the currency legislation, which if enacted would deem undervalued currencies actionable subsidies, was delayed by disagreements over amendments.

A number of Republicans supported the legislation, which would impose sanctions on China for manipulating its currency in order to increase exports. Support from Southern Republican Senators whose states have lost manufacturing jobs in recent years appeared to deliver the key votes on the cloture motion. Sens. Graham, R-S.C.; Sessions, R-Ala.; Burr, R-N.C., who are co-sponsors of S. 1619, were joined by Sens. Chambliss, R-Ga.; Cochran, R-Miss.; Isakson, R-Ga.; and Shelby, R-Ala., in voting for cloture. Other Republicans voting for the motion to invoke cloture were Sens. Snowe, R-Maine; Collins, R-Maine; Brown, R-Mass.; Hoeven, R-N.D.; and Portman, R-Ohio.

Although the Senate cloture vote indicates that the currency bill is likely to pass the Senate, the legislation faces an uncertain future. In the House, Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, has criticized the bill and made it clear he does not want to bring it up.

Approval of three FTAs, which were negotiated during the Bush administration, is expected to occur the week of Oct. 10. The House and the Senate are both scheduled to hold votes on the Colombia, South Korea and Panama FTAs on Oct. 12, one day before South Korean President Lee’s state visit on Oct. 13. The House will vote on the three FTAs and a bill to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programs on that day.

The House Rules Committee issued a closed rule for all four measures, which allows a separate vote on each measure but does not allow for any amendments and stipulates that the House will have one hour of debate on the TAA/GSP bill and 90 minutes for each FTA bill.

Barring any objections, an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) also will limit debate on the FTAs, allowing votes to happen in a more timely fashion. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which applies to all three trade deals when they come up in the Senate, allows up to 20 hours of debate for each of the trade agreements. The House closed rule is important for the Colombia FTA because it is not covered by TPA and would otherwise be open for amendments on the House floor.

In a related development, the Finance Committee announced that it will hold a mark-up of the three FTAs on Oct. 11, at which point it also will consider the nominations of several trade officials, including Ambassador Isi Siddiqui to be USTR’s chief agricultural negotiator.

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