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TradeInFocus   Our compilation of news to keep you in focus on key trade matters

Singapore Ambassador Makes Case for TPP
American Shipper - May 02, 2016
At a briefing in Washington, DC, Singapore's ambassador to the Unites States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri said trade is what plugs in smaller economies and opens selling opportunities for United States firms. Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri said Friday he doesn't feel deceived by apparent conflicting US positions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping trade deal involving 12 nations on four continents. Last year, Congress gave the White House fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP and other trade deals through the passage of a new trade promotion authority bill. But rhetoric around passage of the TPP has changed in 2016, with both presumptive presidential candidates saying they are not in favor of it.

Mirpuri, speaking to a collection of press during a luncheon at the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington, DC, said he is optimistic the deal will be completed and there is no sense of disappointment or deception. "Free trade agreements always go through with just the right amount of support," he said. "No agreement goes through with every member of Congress voting for it. The problem with free trade agreements is we promise benefits that are going to be in the future." That inherently means there can be pain in the short term, pain that can dissuade lawmakers from voting for agreements that jeopardize their ability to get re-elected.

The clock is ticking, Mirpuri warned, without giving a firm timeline for when the deal might not be relevant any more. "There will come a point where some of the (elements of the deal) will no longer be relevant," he said. "TPP has been hard because it's an ambitious framework, a 21st century agreement (covering data, not just goods and services)." As for whether he or his counterparts in other TPP member embassies can sell the agreement to US lawmakers, Mirpuri said it depends.

"The members who voted for TPA, they're fine,- he said. "And if you've never voted for an FTA, I don?t think an ambassador is going to convince you." It's that group in the middle where the fate of TPP in the United States lies, he intimated. Mirpuri, in his current position since 2012, said other TPP members came into negotiations with their "eyes wide open" about the difficulty of passage in the United States. "The surprise is that so many of us built our economies on the economic model of the US free market," he said. "The surprise is that now people (in the United States) have started to reflect that this model isn't effective. This is what you put out in the world - not just democracy but free trade."

Mirpuri extensively discussed Singapore's reasons for wholeheartedly backing the deal. As a nation of roughly 5 million people with few natural resources, his country relies on free trade to -plug in to the world economy." So Singapore has inked 21 bilateral free trade agreements, including with the United States. Singapore imported $64 billion worth of goods and services from the United States in 2015, of which three-quarters were goods.

Mirpuri said the TPP should be seen as a way for US companies to sell their goods and services more effectively to economies in Asia. He noted that economic and population growth will come from that region. Failing to connect with those growing economies - such as Vietnam and Thailand - would have bigger consequences for the United States than for the ASEAN bloc, since the ASEAN nations have already cemented FTAs with each other, China, and Europe. "TPP is not the only game in town," he said. "I see TPP as a way for the US to anchor itself in Asia."

The TPP, as it currently stands, is largely dependent on ratification by the United States and Japan, the two largest economies in the deal, since 85 percent of the economies among the 12 members need to pass it for it come into existence. If it does, Mirpuri noted that other major Asian nations, such as Indonesia, South Korea, and the Philippines, are eager to join as well.
Meanwhile, while many have seen the development of the TPP as a way for the United States to counter China's influence in Asia trade, Mirpuri said Singapore welcomed China's participation in the deal, adding that he does not see membership in TPP as a choice between China and the United States. "TPP is not meant to be exclusive," he said. "Our economic strategy is plugging into the world, not about making a choice."

Opening Remarks by US and EU Chief Negotiators from the New York Round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) Negotiations
April 29, 2016
US Chief Negotiator Daniel Mullaney: Thank you for joining. We are delighted to be back in New York City for this round of T-TIP negotiations. It was one year ago this month that we held our 9th round of negotiations here. The air and seaports of the New York City area play a predominant role in US trade with Europe - handling some $400 million dollars? worth of goods every single day. It's very fitting therefore that we returned here for this critical round of negotiations.

This round coincided with the Hannover Messe in Germany, the world's largest industrial fair, which President Obama opened jointly with Chancellor Merkel and where he specifically addressed T-TIP. The President said in Hannover and I quote: "The time to complete T-TIP is now and I'm here to say that the United States is prepared to make every effort to reach an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard agreement this year." That is the spirit and determination with which my team and I approached this round of negotiations.

Let me say again what I have before: The United States has no interest in a "T-TIP Light." That would not fulfill the economic promise of the ambitious agreement we are seeking, and it would not pass muster with our stakeholders or our Congress. We believe there remains sufficient time to complete an ambitious T-TIP agreement this year. Our teams have been engaging on all levels - in some cases, almost daily - since the last round in Brussels in February. Ambassador Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative, and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstr'm have been in constant contact and have met four times within the last six weeks, including this week in Hannover.

Now that we have proposed agreement text in almost all negotiating areas, our efforts are focused on resolving areas of disagreement. This week we discussed our respective proposals on labor and the environment, which reaffirmed that we share the same commitment to promoting strong labor and environmental protections and cooperation in T-TIP - not only with each other, but also with the rest of the world. In several areas - including the chapter on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise, or SMEs, customs and trade facilitation and competition - we are at a very advanced stage of negotiation. In some instances, there are only a few issues left to resolve.

We made solid progress in developing agreement provisions on good regulatory practices, which would strengthen transparent rule-making on both sides of the Atlantic. Similarly, we had fruitful discussions in developing the framework for regulatory cooperation, which would facilitate greater compatibility in future regulations, while at the same time maintaining the strong labor, environmental and consumer protections that our citizens have come to expect. In addition to these cross-cutting regulatory elements, which would apply to all sectors, we continued to make progress in developing provisions for specific product sectors, including autos, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and cosmetics.

With respect to pharmaceuticals, a common objective is to achieve mutual recognition of our respective inspection regimes, so that pharmaceutical facilities in the US and the EU are not subject to unnecessary duplicative inspections. Eliminating unnecessary duplication will not only reduce costs for pharmaceutical manufacturers: it will also enable regulators on both sides to devote more attention to inspecting facilities in regions where safety concerns may be more acute, also resulting in benefits for the consumer.

During the round, we also continued to make progress on tariff elimination, a key US goal. We had agreed earlier to eliminate tariffs on 97% of tariff lines, and at this round, we worked to increase the number of those tariff lines that would be zeroed out upon entry into force of the agreement. In the months ahead, we will discuss the elimination of the remaining tariffs, and we will seek to accelerate the pace of reduction for tariff lines we have already agreed to phase out.
We had very constructive discussion on a US framework text for the mutual recognition of professional services. This framework would allow professionals to have their years of training and experience recognized when obtaining permission to practice across the Atlantic. Cooperation on this issue is possible because the US and EU maintain similarly high standards for qualification of professionals. Many of our highly skilled professionals practice in small and medium-sized firms. By making it easier for these professionals to practice throughout the transatlantic area, T-TIP will benefit both these SMEs and their new clients.

T-TIP will not only eliminate tariffs, simplify procedures, cut red tape and bridge differences in our regulatory systems to the economic benefit of consumers, workers and businesses alike: it will also have a valuable strategic benefit as well. At a time when other countries are trying to shape global trade to their advantage, T-TIP gives the US and the EU an opportunity to write the rules for trade in a way that reflects important values - like rules of law, transparency and high standards for protecting the environment, workers and consumers.

As you all know, earlier this week, President Obama's visit to Europe gave us a strong political boost. We also made good progress on the provisions of customs and trade facilitation. An ambitious chapter would simplify customs procedures and reduces fees and charges to the benefit of SMEs in particular. We are also continuing to make progress on tariffs. Here consumers and companies would feel an immediate impact, as the prices of imported and exported products could fall. Indeed, EU firms pay over EUR 3.5 billion a year in customs tariffs when exporting to the US. We did not discuss the remaining 3% of tariff lines, which are the most sensitive.

Finally, let me state, from the European Union point of view, we are ready to work hard to try to conclude these negotiations in 2016, but of course, only if the substance of the deal is right. We are currently planning for another round before the summer break, most likely in July. The objective for this round would then be to continue to work on consolidation in all areas, so that we only have a very limited number of open issues, the so called "square brackets", that will ultimately need to be resolved at political level. We need to achieve an agreement that will be the most ambitious, balanced and comprehensive agreement ever concluded by either the European Union or the United States. Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.


US Coast Guard Weighs In on SOLAS Methodology
Cargo Business Newswire - May 3, 2016
The Coast Guard has decided that existing US laws and regulations for providing verified container weights are equivalent to the requirements in SOLAS Regulation VI/2. The USCG sent a letter to the International Maritime Organization outlining its decision that its current regulatory regime provides for other entities within the container export chain to work with the shipper to determine and verify container weights.

This equivalency acknowledges the dynamic business relationships between players in the export chain, and provides flexibility for them to reach arrangements in order to ensure compliance with the SOLAS amendments beginning July 1, 2016. Shippers, carriers, terminals, and maritime associations have outlined multiple acceptable methods for providing verified gross mass (VGM), according to the Coast Guard statement.

The USCG said two of those methods are: (1) the terminal weighs the container, and when duly authorized, verifies the VGM on behalf of the shipper, and (2) the shipper and carrier reach agreement whereby the shipper verifies the weight of the cargo, dunnage, and other securing material, and the container's tare weight is provided and verified by the carrier.

For the purposes of determining the VGM of a container, any equipment currently being used to comply with federal or state laws, including the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act and the container weight requirements in 29 CFR 1918.85(b), are acceptable for the purpose of complying with SOLAS, the statement said.
The Coast Guard, in the normal course of vessel inspections under its flag state and port state control authorities, said it will continue to verify that ships' masters receive the VGM of containers in order to ensure that ships are loaded safely and operate within their structural and stability safety limitations.

GPA to Offer Free Container Weighing Service at Savannah
American Shipper - May 05, 2016
The Port of Savannah will weigh export containers at no cost to help shippers comply with new International Maritime Organization requirements for providing verified gross mass data to carriers. The Georgia Ports Authority made the announcement Thursday following the US Coast Guard?s statement last week reiterating that existing federal and state laws requiring customers to provide carriers with the weight of their shipments are acceptable for complying with the amended Safety of Life at Sea convention.

Member states of the International Maritime Organization changed SOLAS to require shippers to provide vessel operators with the verified container weight in response to claims that overweight containers have contributed to accidents at terminals and at sea. Shippers can either have the loaded container weighed on a scale or separately weigh the contents and dunnage, and add the figures to the tare weight stenciled on the side of the box provide by the carrier. A company representative must sign the shipping document attesting to the accuracy of the weight.

The added bureaucracy associated with the rule has many shippers up in arms because certified third party scales may not be available or will charge an extra fee, and fears that accepting the tare weight at face value could open them up to liability if the weight is inaccurate. The Coast Guard statement indicated that the current practice of weight containers at terminal gates delivers equivalent data to that compiled by the shipper. The GPA said it weighs containers at no cost to ocean carriers.

Savannah joins the ports of Baltimore and Charleston as the only ones so far that have publicly stated they will offer weighing services to help shippers comply with the SOLAS verified gross mass requirements. The South Carolina Ports Authority says it too weighs export containers and will provide the measurements to shippers upon request. And Ports America, the private terminal operator at Baltimore's Seagirt Terminal, said late last month that it will accept ocean boxes and weigh them for an undisclosed fee, or allow the boxes to be picked up and taken to an offsite scale to be weighed.


Big Boost for Night, Weekend Work at the Port of Oakland
Port of Oakland - May 3, 2016
A $1.5 million subsidy program to stimulate night and weekend business at the Port of Oakland has been extended. The Port's largest marine terminal operator responded today saying it will use the program to further expand weeknight operations. The announcement comes as the Port abandons its traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. operating model. "The old way doesn't work any longer," said Port Executive Director Chris Lytle. "There's too much business; we have to stay open longer to get cargo in and out of Oakland."

Port Commissioners voted last week to continue through June 30 the fund that partially subsidizes extended gate hours. It had been scheduled to expire this week. Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT), which handles 67 percent of Oakland's cargo, said it will tap the fund immediately. The terminal has operated nights and Saturdays for two months to ease pressure on busy weekday cargo operations. Now it intends to conduct additional nighttime transactions Tuesdays-through-Thursdays, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., during a four-week trial.

The new transactions include accepting containerized export loads and receiving and releasing empty containers. The expanded-transaction trial begins May 10. Other nighttime transactions already in place include:
- Refrigerated container handling;
- Containerized import pick-up by customers using an express service known as the one-stop, free-flow program; and
- Import pick-up for containers loaded on chassis for immediate drayage.
"We're counting on harbor drivers to take advantage of these added nighttime features," said Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll. "This is what cargo owners have been asking for and the terminal operator and Port have been listening."

Extra gate hours are intended to give harbor truckers more time to pick-up and deliver containerized cargo. Until recently, they had only been allowed through terminal gates on weekdays. By working nights or Saturdays, drivers can avoid lines that sometime build up on the dayside Monday-through-Friday. The upshot, the Port said, is faster cargo delivery to customers. Oakland International Container Terminal said it's conducting up to 600 transactions every night and 1,200 on Saturdays. The Port said those numbers should grow as more business migrates from weekday operations.


tradeinfocus is a summary of news and events on the trade policy front for clients, trade & legislative colleagues, and professional friends of W.J. Byrnes & Co.