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Permanent Moratorium on Internet Taxation in Customs Bill

Today the Senate voted 75-20 in favor of the conference report accompanying H.R. 644, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, the so-called customs bill.

While the majority of the bill deals with customs duties and procedures, there are some notable provisions in the conference report that won support. Chief among these is a permanent moratorium on Internet taxation, replacing temporary holds on states and localities taxing Internet access or placing multiple and discriminatory taxes on Internet commerce. That’s good news for consumers, who increasingly are purchasing goods and services on internet sites.

A House amendment to H.R.644 specifically amends the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act (the Trade Promotion Authority Act) by ensuring that the negotiating objectives for trade agreements outlined there cannot include measures that would obligate the U.S. to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The conference report follows the House amendment and further states that if a trade agreement includes such measures obligating the U.S. to limit greenhouse gas emissions, it would not qualify for consideration under TPA’s “fast-track” procedures and would have to be considered under regular order.

Since these actions amend an existing law (TPA) and the conference report further expands that amendment, it would seem to be binding. Again, that’s good news for businesses and consumers. Increasingly, trade agreements have been incorporating into trade pacts issues that are extraneous to open trade. If an issue such as greenhouse gas emission constraints were included in trade agreements, any consumer gains from trade openings would be forestalled by much higher energy prices.

On the down side, the bill beefs up provisions on currency manipulation and details steps the Treasury Department should take to combat that. This would appear to be a concession to China critics.

The legislation also steps up enforcement of antidumping and countervailing duty laws and action on trade remedy evasion by establishing a law enforcement division within the Customs and Border Protection’s trade office.