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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Miscellaneous Tariff Bills: Overview and Issues for Congress

Vivian C. Jones
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

U.S. importers often request that Members of Congress introduce bills seeking to temporarily suspend or reduce tariffs on certain imports. The vast majority of these bills address 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 may 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 trade (or 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 executive branch agencies to ensure that they are noncontroversial (generally, that no domestic producer, Member, or government agency objects), relatively revenue-neutral (revenue loss due to the duty suspension of no more than $500,000 per item), and are able to be administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

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, proposed duty suspensions on approximately 290 additional products, passed in the House. Due to changes in the Senate version of the bill, the duty suspension provisions were dropped. On December 22, 2010, the Senate passed H.R. 6517, as amended, and the House passed the Senate’s amended version of the bill on the same date (became P.L. 111- 344).

MTB legislation could be taken up in the second session of the 112th Congress. On March 30, 2012, Chairman Camp and Ranking Member Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Chairman Brady and Ranking Member McDermott of the Trade Subcommittee announced the beginning of the MTB process in the House, and invited Members to submit duty suspension bills by April 30, 2012. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus also announced on March 30 that duty suspension bills would be due in the Senate on the same date. Since the duty suspensions enacted in P.L. 111-227 expire on December 30, 2012, MTB legislation in the 112th Congress could include renewal of some or all of the provisions in that law, those included in H.R. 6517 in the 111th Congress that were not enacted, as well as new duty suspensions.

On June 12, 2012, S. 3292, the Temporary Duty Suspension Process Act of 2012, a bill seeking to require the USITC to recommend temporary duty suspensions to Congress, was introduced. This bill is similar, but not identical, to S. 1162 (the Removing Hurdles for American Manufacturers Act of 2011), introduced on June 9, 2011.

This report discusses: first, the review process of duty suspension bills by House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committee staff, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), and other relevant agencies; second, MTB legislation debated in the past few Congresses; and third, some details of the debate for MTB passage. Finally, MTB legislation considered in Congress from 1983 to the present is summarized in Table A-1.

Date of Report: July 16, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL33867
Price: $29.95

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