Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Trade Deals Reached With China, Mexico And Canada

Washington, D.C.—President Donald Trump signed a much-anticipated Phase 1 of a trade deal with China, describing it as a “momentous step” for the two countries.

“Together, we are righting the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers and families,” Trump said.

He revealed that Phase 2 negotiations will begin as soon as the initial phase kicks in.

“We’re leaving tariffs on,” the president said, conceding that approach shocked others.

“But I will agree to take those tariffs off, if we are able to do Phase 2. In other words, we are negotiating with the tariffs.”

Speaking on background, a senior administration official later told reporters the U.S. has agreed not to implement the tariffs scheduled to take effect December 15, not to increase tariffs as scheduled on October 15 and to reduce the September 1 tariffs from 15 percent to 7.5 percent.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He called the trade deal mutually beneficial and a win-win agreement.

“It is good for China, for the United States, and for the world,” Liu said.

According to a White House summary, this initial stage includes a pledge from China to boost imports of American goods and services by at least $200 billion and up to $50 billion in agricultural goods each year for the next two years.

It also covers “critical reforms” such as ending China’s practices of forcing technology transfers and addressing certain currency practices.

Leading Democrats in Congress criticized the agreement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned the deal lacks long-term reforms and will harm American workers and industry.

Schumer said the agreement also fails to address China’s massive subsidies that support its domestic industries or its illegal dumping of products onto the U.S. market at artificially low prices.

USMCA Progress

A bill implementing the trade agreement with the U.S., Mexico and Canada (USMCA) easily won final congressional approval from the Senate.

After the 89 to 10 vote, H.R. 5430 headed to the desk of President Trump, who is expected to sign it promptly.

“That’ll be tremendous, with Canada and Mexico,” the president said a day earlier.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had made it clear he wanted the floor vote held before his chamber begins Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday.

McConnell said Mexico and Canada buy more than $500 billion in American goods and services annually, including nearly 30 percent of all food and agricultural  products the U.S. exports to the world.
Small businesses, workers and families have been clamoring to get the agreement approved, he said.

NEPA Reform

President Trump targeted what he called endless infrastructure project delays caused by a regulatory nightmare in promoting his administration’s effort to reform the decades-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“America is a nation of builders,” Trump said, adding while it took only four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge, it now can take a decade to get a permit on a simple road.

“It’s big government at its absolute worst.”

Under the proposed changes, time limits of two years would be established for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments.

Information sharing through technology, improved collaboration with state, local and tribal governments and allowing federal agencies to adopt each other’s determinations to increase efficiency also would be addressed.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which has a leading role in the administration’s effort, posted a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register and set a March 10 deadline for receiving comments.

CEQ also scheduled public hearings on February 11 at the Environmental Protection Agency Region 8, 1595 Wynkoop St., Denver, Colo., and February 25 at the Department of the Interior, Yates Auditorium, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC.

For additional information, contact Edward Boling or Viktoria Seale at 202-395-5750.

The administration’s effort sparked sharply different reactions in Congress with Republicans applauding it as a long-overdue bid to modernize NEPA and Democrats criticizing it as an attempt to weaken the law and do away with its legacy of protecting Americans from pollution.

INFRA Grants

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced availability of $906 million in Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant funding.

Established by a major 2015 transportation law, Chao’s announcement explained, INFRA promotes projects with national and regional economic vitality goals while leveraging non-federal funding to boost total investments by state, local and private partners.

Both large projects that must be at least $25 million and small projects of at least $5 million are eligible with 10 percent of the annual funding reserved for small projects.

At least 25 percent of INFRA funding will be awarded to rural projects, the announcement stated.

It added that INFRA grants may be used to fund a variety of components of an infrastructure project but the program “is specifically focused on projects in which the local sponsor is significantly invested and is positioned to proceed rapidly to construction.”

Eligible project costs may include reconstruction, rehabilitation, acquisition of property, environmental mitigation, construction contingencies, equipment acquisition and operational improvements directly related to system performance, the announcement explained.

The application period runs through February 25.

Small Shipyard Grants

The Maritime Administration (MarAd) announced availability of $19.6 million in grants to small shipyards for capital improvements to foster efficiency, competitive operations, and quality ship construction, repair, and reconfiguration and provide training for workers in shipbuilding, ship repair and associated industries.

“It is anticipated that roughly 8–20 applications will be selected for funding with an average grant amount of about $1 million,” MarAd stated in the Federal Register, adding the number of applications under the Small Shipyard Grant Program are expected to far exceed the funds available.

Applications must be received by 5 p.m. on February 18.

For additional information, contact David Heller at 202-366-5737.

Carbon-Free Maritime Industry

A key House panel held a hearing on moving toward a carbon-free maritime industry.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, noted the initiative already taken by the maritime industry in recognizing that decarbonizing the global economy is both a necessity and an opportunity.

“We are borrowing time from the next generation. The time for change is now,” Maloney said.

Recognizing the impacts shipping emissions have on human health, he said, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has committed to reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50 percent by the year 2050 from 2008 levels.

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the panel’s ranking member, said lawmakers need to look at the impact on the industry of IMO’s targets, which kicked in earlier in the month.

In his testimony, Peter Bryn of ABB Marine & Ports, a firm specializing in technologies that address causes of climate change,  encouraged the subcommittee to set an ambitious, long-term plan to achieve zero emissions for all vessels and support the growth of a sustainable maritime industry.

Next WRDA

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said his panel plans to consider a new water resources development act (WRDA) in the spring.

 Beginning his second year as committee chairman, DeFazio again repeated his commitment to keep the schedule put in place several years ago that made biennial consideration of WRDA legislation regular order.

“Biennial consideration of WRDAs also allows for Congress to continue to address lingering policy concerns with implementation of Corps projects,” he said.

DeFazio issued his statement as the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment conducted a hearing on proposals for the next WRDA that included testimony from R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works; and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose four-year tour is scheduled to end in May.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) questioned James on how his agency’s work will be impacted by what she described as President Trump’s effort to eliminate consideration of climate change on infrastructure project development.

“We are still learning,” James said before explaining the Corps uses National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data and expertise on climate change.

“Unless ordered not to do so, we will continue to follow the science.”

TSAC Membership

The Coast Guard has requested applications to serve on the National Towing Safety Advisory Committee and advise the secretary of Homeland Security on shallow-draft inland navigation, coastal waterway navigation and towing safety.

Applications for the 18 positions representing various industries and the general public should be submitted by March 16.

For additional information, contact Matthew Layman at 202-372-1421.

Alaska Port Access Study

The Coast Guard once again has extended its comment period for the Port Access Route Study: Alaskan Arctic Coast.

Comments now must be received by June 30.

For additional information, contact Michael Newell at 907-463-2263.

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