President Barack Obama signed the customs bill and Judicial Redress Act into law last Wednesday. In addressing U.S. state governors last week, the President expressed optimism that Congress may act this year on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. Congress will be in session this week, with a number of defense-related hearings scheduled, as well as a Senate Finance Committee hearing focused on previous free trade agreements (FTAs).
Customs Bill and Judicial Redress Act Signed into Law
On 24 February, President Obama signed H.R.644, Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (“customs bill”), into law. President Obama said at the signing ceremony:
“We can’t have other countries engaged in practices that disadvantage American workers and American businesses.”
The President also thanked Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) for the provision in the law that provides “new tools to deal with currency devaluations that are designed to undercut U.S. goods, U.S. exports, and [the U.S.] balance in trade.” The signing statement for the customs bill is available here.
TPP – Developments in Washington
Addressing the National Governors Association early last week, President Obama said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress can approve the TPP deal this year. In a teleconference call with the media later in the week, Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, signaled the White House is willing to wait on a congressional vote on the TPP to ensure the strongest possible support for the agreement.
Senate Finance Hearing on FTAs This Week
Last Thursday, Chairman Hatch announced the Committee will hold a hearing on 3 March to examine the implementation of past trade agreements. The Chairman did not specifically reference the TPP deal, when he said:
“This hearing will give Members the opportunity to examine the degree to which our trade agreement partners have met their existing obligations and look at ways to improve the implementation of future free trade agreements considered under this important trade tool.”
U.S. Chief Negotiator Dan Mullaney said at a press briefing on Friday that the United States had tabled a proposal at this week’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations in Brussels that would create a formal mechanism for a regulator-to-regulator dialogue. The EU also submitted a revised proposal on regulatory cooperation. There are nine sectors where regulatory cooperation is being discussed: (1) information and communication technology, (2) engineering, (3) chemicals, (4) pesticides, (5) autos, (6) pharmaceuticals, (7) medical devices, (8) cosmetics, and (9) textiles.
Zika Virus – President Urges Congress to Act on Emergency Funds
In a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) last week, President Obama requested that Congress consider a Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 emergency supplemental appropriations request of approximately $1.9 billion to respond to the Zika Virus both domestically and internationally.
Syria – Ceasefire Goes into Effect
Over the weekend, the U.S.-Russian brokered deal on a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria came into effect but does not apply to terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, al Nusra, etc. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging all parties involved in Syrian civil war to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire agreement. The ceasefire will be monitored by a task force co-chaired by Moscow and Washington.
Russia/Ukraine – President Obama Speaks with President Putin
In a telephone call last week, President Obama reiterated to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the combined Russian-separatist forces in eastern Ukraine need to fulfill the Minsk agreements, and he emphasized the ceasefire must be maintained. President Obama further underscored the importance of quickly reaching agreement on modalities for holding elections in eastern Ukraine that meet Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards. The two leaders also discussed the situation in Syria.
North Korea – New UNSCR Proposed
On Friday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) issued a statement on the proposed U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) targeting North Korea’s nuclear program. He said that “[i]f strictly enforced, this resolution can be a catalyst for the United States and the world to begin taking a much tougher stand against the growing nuclear threat from North Korea.” Senator Corker also urged the Obama Administration to fully implement the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, which he reminded would toughen enforcement of sanctions, put forward strategies to improve human rights, and stop cyberattacks from that country.
U.S. LNG Exports Head South
On 24 February, Cheniere Energy said it will ship the first major cargo of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Brazil from the company’s Sabine Pass facility on the Texas-Louisiana border. The Department of Energy approved the facility to ship 2.2 billion cubic feet per day for 20 years. This is the first of several LNG export terminals expected to come online in the coming months.
U.S.-Mexico High-Level Summit
Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, travelled to Mexico City for the third annual U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue on February 25 to discuss six priority areas: (1) modern borders, (2) energy, (3) workforce development, (4) regulatory cooperation, (5) regional and global leadership, and (6) stakeholder engagement. The White House released a joint statement at the conclusion of the Dialogue, available here.
Northern Triangle Summit
On 24 February, Vice President Biden met in Washington with El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Cerén, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, and Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez to discuss joint efforts to promote economic integration in the Northern Triangle of Central America, ultimately seeking to address the underlying conditions driving migration to the United States. At the conclusion of the meeting, a joint statement was released, available here.
Congressional Hearings This Week
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “United States European Command.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Budget Hearing – United States Navy and Marine Corps.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Member Day – National Defense Priorities from Members for the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Demand Factor in the Global Sex Trade: Human Trafficking as a Human Rights Crisis.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Air Force Projection Forces Aviation Programs and Capabilities for Fiscal Year 2017.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the House Financial Services Committee Taskforce to Investigate Terrorism Financing is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Helping the Developing World Fight Terror Finance.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “A Review of the FY 2017 State and USAID Budget Request.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Airland is scheduled to hold a closed hearing titled, “Air Force Long Range Strike-Bomber.”
- On Tuesday, 1 March, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Special Operations Forces in an Evolving Threat Environment: A Review of the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Command.”
- On Wednesday, 2 March, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “World Wide Threats.”
- On Wednesday, 2 March, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Budget Hearing – United States Air Force.”
- On Wednesday, 2 March, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request and funding justification for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.”
- On Wednesday, 2 March, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Ground Force Modernization Budget Request.”
- On Wednesday, 2 March, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Request for Department of Defense Nuclear Forces.”
- On Wednesday, 2 March, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Growing Threat of Cholera and Other Diseases in the Middle East.”
- On Thursday, 3 March, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Posture of the Department of the Air Force.”
- On Thursday, 3 March, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Budget Hearing – Installations, Environment, Energy and BRAC.”
- On Thursday, 3 March, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Budget Hearing – United States Army.”
- On Thursday, 3 March, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Marine Corps 2017 Budget Request and Readiness.”
- On Thursday, 3 March, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Unidentified: Accountability for War Crimes in Kosovo.”
Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:
- 1 March: Super Tuesday – Primaries/Caucuses for both parties in several states
- 10 March: President Obama hosts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
- 21-22 March: President Obama travels to Cuba
- 23-24 March: President Obama travels to Argentina
- 31 March – 1 April: Nuclear Security Summit in Washington
- April 25-29: President Obama attends the Hannover Messe in Germany
- [TBA] May: President Obama travels to Vietnam and Laos
- 8-9 July: NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland