February Legislative Update
February 25, 2014

Senator Ron Wyden Confirmed as Chairman of Senate Finance Committee

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) was confirmed earlier this month as chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance.  He replaces Sen. Max Baucus, who now serves as U.S. Ambassador to China.  A long-time member of the Finance Committee, Sen. Wyden previously served as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, where he most recently advocated for increasing attention to digital trade rules and enforcement of U.S. trade laws.       

The Senator from Oregon, in his first released statement since being passed the gavel, outlined his priorities as Chairman: “In the early days of my Chairmanship I intend to meet with my colleagues to find the right paths forward on reforming the tax code, protecting the Medicare guarantee while lowering costs, improving America’s ability to compete overseas and ensuring that Americans continue to have access to quality, affordable health care.”  He has indicated that he will push for the extension of dozens of tax credits and deductions that expired last year.   Of note, the new Chairman did not comment on his priority trade issues, including whether he would pursue the Baucus-Camp Trade Promotion Authority Bill that was introduced in January. 

Senator Wyden also reaffirmed his commitment to bipartisanship, noting, “In this highly polarized environment, the route to legislative success must go through cooperation on both sides of the aisle.”  A graduate of Stanford University and the University of Oregon School of Law, Sen. Wyden was born in Kansas and currently resides in Portland, Oregon.  He served in the U.S.  House of Representatives until his election to the Senate in 1996.

For Sen. Wyden’s released statement following his confirmation, click here

 African Growth and Opportunity Act Up for Renewal

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows eligible African products into the United States duty-free will expire in September 2015.  In advance of its expiration, work is currently underway in Congress to review the program and determine whether reform is needed.  In late December 2013, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to assess the effectiveness of AGOA.  Click here for a press release issued by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a copy of the letter. 

The White House has already vocalized its support for continuing AGOA’s benefits.  In his visit to Ethiopia last August for the 12th Annual AGOA Forum, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said, “President Obama is committed to a seamless renewal of AGOA – one that is informed by and aligns with the global trading system.”  Under the AGOA legislation, President Obama determines which of the sub-Saharan African countries are eligible for the program on an annual basis.  Ambassador Froman has also requested the International Trade Commission (ITC) to prepare four reports to assist negotiators identify specific ways in which AGOA could be changed, for example by changing the rules of origin and identifying products for expansion.  Not all of the reports will be made available publically.  For more information about the reports, which are due in late April, click here for the ITC press release.

In 2012, two-way trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa totaled $72 billion.   Since the enactment of AGOA in 2001, non-oil exports under AGOA have more than doubled and U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa have tripled.