WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) this week announced two bills aimed at defending trade-affected Ohio manufacturers and workers, the TAA Health Coverage Improvement Act and the ENFORCE Act.
TAA Health Coverage Improvement Act
The Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) helps trade-affected workers, select groups of retirees, and their families purchase private health coverage to replace the employer-sponsored coverage they lost. Since 2009, the number of displaced workers and retirees using the HCTC has more than tripled, increasing from 14,000 to approximately 50,000. Typically, the HCTC covers 65 percent of a workers’ premium. In 2009, the coverage was increased to 80 percent as part of the Recovery Act. The expanded tax credit expired on February 12th, 2011, impacting thousands of trade-affected workers.
To help these workers afford health insurance for themselves and their families, Brown this week signed on to the TAA Health Coverage Improvement Act, a bill which would increase the current health coverage tax credit of 65 percent to 95 percent of the health insurance premium to enable more trade-displaced workers to join the program.
“If Congress passes wrong-headed trade agreements, we cannot turn our back on the workers who have been affected by them,” Brown said. “Our economy is on the rebound, but we must extend HCTC to ensure that workers looking for new jobs and retirees that need health coverage for themselves and their families can still afford to purchase it.”
Earlier this week, Brown led a filibuster-proof majority of 43 senators on a letter to President Barack Obama supporting his decision not to submit any free trade agreements to Congress—including pending agreements for Colombia, Panama, and South Korea—until Congress agrees to extend a long-term extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance, including the 2009 bipartisan reforms that include improvements to the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC.)
The ENFORCE Act
A number of Ohio industries, including steel pipe, coated paper, and tire manufacturers, have benefited from successful cases brought before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) that resulted in the application of antidumping (AD) and countervailing (CVD) duties to foreign-made imports, particularly those manufactured in China. But according to the Senate Finance Committee, some exporters—from countries like China—have been known to mislabel shipments and reroute goods through third-party countries in an effort to fool customs officials and circumvent U.S. trade laws that have been put in place to prevent unfair foreign trade practices. This undercuts American-made products and causes the Treasury to miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tariffs and duties owed by foreign suppliers and importers. Last month, Brown testified before the Senate Finance Committee on the topic, noting that “customs enforcement is the critical complement to the enforcement of our trade laws. But when duties on unfairly subsidized or dumped products are evaded, it’s not just cheating. It’s getting caught and then ignoring the penalty.”
To remedy the problem of duty evasion, Brown and a group of bipartisan senators introduced the ENFORCE Act, a bill that would establish a rapid-response timeline by which Customs would respond to allegations of evasion. The law requires Customs to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to believe an importer is evading an AD/CVD order within 90 days of an allegation being put forward. If an affirmative preliminary determination is made, the ENFORCE Act will require that AD/CVD penalties be collected in cash until the investigation is concluded.
“When a reckless driver buys a radar detector instead of paying his speeding ticket, that’s evasion,” Brown said. “That’s exactly what happens when foreign companies avoid paying duties on unfairly- subsidized and dumped products. Ohio manufacturers rely on trade enforcement laws, but when duties are so easily evaded, they become meaningless. The ENFORCE Act will help ensure that we stay one step ahead of these illegal and unfair practices that put Ohio manufacturers at a serious disadvantage.”
Since many of the schemes importers use to evade these orders include mislabeling the origin of merchandise, it is very difficult for the U.S. government’s product safety mechanisms to cope. The ENFORCE Act will also increase the safety of imports by authorizing information sharing among the appropriate agencies when the government determines that an importer may be attempting to evade an AD/CVD order.
Described by the Washington Post as “Congress' leading proponent of American manufacturing,” Brown has been a strong advocate for enforcing international trade law. He has testified multiple times before the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) on behalf of steel, aluminum, rubber tire, and paper producers in Ohio during cases that considered whether underpriced imports from countries like China were negatively impacting domestic manufacturers. Positive rulings from the ITC have helped support manufacturing jobs in Ohio, playing an important role in the construction of a new $650 million seamless pipe mill in Youngstown that brought hundreds of jobs to the Mahoning Valley as well as the preservation of tire manufacturing jobs in Findlay and Leavittsburg.