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Friday, January 13, 2012

Tariff Modifications: Miscellaneous Tariff Bills

Vivian C. Jones
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Importers often request that members of Congress introduce bills seeking to suspend or reduce tariffs on certain imports on their behalf. The vast majority of these commodities are chemicals, raw materials, or other components used as inputs in the manufacturing process. The rationale for these requests, in general, is that they help domestic producers of the downstream goods reduce costs, thus making their products more competitive. In turn, these cost reductions can be passed on to the consumer.

In recent congressional practice, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, the committees of jurisdiction over tariffs, have combined individual duty suspension bills and other technical trade provisions into larger pieces of legislation known as miscellaneous tariff bills (MTBs). Before inclusion in an MTB, the individual legislative proposals introduced by Members are reviewed by the trade subcommittee staff in each committee, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), and several executive branch agencies to ensure that they are noncontroversial (generally, that no domestic producer objects) and relatively revenue-neutral (revenue loss of no more than $500,000 per item).

In the 111th Congress, the United States Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-227) was signed by the President on August 11, 2010. As enacted, the law temporarily suspended or reduced for three years (through December 31, 2012) duties on over 600 products, many of which renewed duty suspensions or reductions that were already in place. On December 15, 2010, H.R. 6517, a bill that, in part, sought further duty suspensions on approximately 290 products, passed in the House. On December 22, 2010, however, the Senate passed an amendment in the nature of a substitute of H.R. 6517 that did not contain the duty suspension measures. The House passed the amended version of the bill on the same date (P.L. 111-344).

Legislation could emerge in the second session of the 112th Congress proposing the duty suspensions originally included in H.R. 6517 and other duty suspensions. However, some in Congress assert that duty suspensions, also referred to in legislation as “limited tariff benefits” are similar to earmarks—and should, therefore, be subject to the non-binding moratorium on earmarks supported by House and Senate Republicans last year.

Nonetheless, on December 13, 2011, House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady announced that he is working toward advancing an MTB in the second session of the 112th Congress, by “seeking a process to assure Members in the House and particularly the Senate that this [MTB] bill is job-creating, that the process is transparent.”

This report, first, briefly presents a discussion of the MTB legislation debated in the past few congresses. Second, the review of individual duty suspension bills by House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committee staff, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), and other relevant agencies are discussed. Third, the report presents the pros and cons for MTB passage. Fourth, a table at the end of the report illustrates MTB legislation considered in Congress from the 97th Congress (1983) to the present.

Date of Report: December 29, 2011
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL33867
Price: $29.95

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