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Trade Developments on Export-Import Bank and NAFTA/USMCA

America’s trade policy landscape has some big events on the horizon. The House of Representatives will vote next week on Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-CA) Export-Import Bank reauthorization bill. The Trump administration has signaled opposition to it, making it unlikely to become law. The administration favors Ex-Im renewal, but likely wants it to be more bellicose towards China. As I predicted earlier, Ex-Im’s most likely next step is a short-term reauthorization in the upcoming Continuing Resolution, due November 21st. The agency should be closed, but that is unlikely in the current policy environment. A recent paper of mine lists some second-best reforms that Congress and Ex-Im should pursue.

On Tuesday, November 12th, President Trump is set to give a major speech on trade. He will likely give an update on the first phase of a new trade deal with China. High-level meetings have been taken place, though nothing has so far been formally agreed to. Nothing would be signed until December at the earliest.

European car tariffs are also in play, and may also come up during the speech. President Trump has long wanted to tax European cars on national security grounds, and is due to make a decision on whether to enact such tariffs by November 14th. A new tariff, by raising tensions with an ally Trump needs on China issues, would work against the administration’s efforts to encourage Chinese trade reforms. Further complicating matters, many European cars contain significant amounts of U.S.-made parts, and European carmakers own several U.S. factories employing U.S. workers.

Finally, a vote on the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)/United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) still has a chance of happening by the end of the year, though there is no guarantee. The new agreement changes little from the first NAFTA, and 57 percent of its language is taken verbatim from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of on his third day in office. Due in part to the low stakes, Democratic opposition has not been forceful. The main holdup right now is organized labor trying to get rent-seeking provisions added to the final agreement. Given the high priority Trump has placed on passing NAFTA/USMCA, they may well succeed.