Capitol Comments

Free trade agreements finally here

By Jessica Franken, INDAu2008Director of Government Affairs | August 31, 2011

Senate leaders announce breakthrough on long-delayed FTAs

Perhaps seized by a new-found spirit of cooperation following their recent debt limit debacle (or more likely, consumed by a desire to offset public disgust with Congress), on August 3, Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced they had achieved a breakthrough that will enable them to complete stalled U.S. free trade deals with Colombia, Korea and Panama, hopefully sometime this fall.

Despite having been signed more than four years ago and despite enjoying widespread support on Capitol Hill, the three pacts have been repeatedly delayed, most recently by partisan disputes over an expired training program for trade-displaced workers, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). President Obama and congressional Democrats had insisted the FTAs be packaged with an extension of TAA but faced opposition from Republicans who objected to the $575 million price tag. Under the framework for moving to a vote, the Senate party leaders agreed to decouple the two issues, holding separate votes after lawmakers return from their August recess.

Although the deal with Korea is the most economically significant with two-way trade nearing $90 billion last year, all three stand to create new opportunities for U.S. businesses. The FTAs have a particularly strong impact on the free-trade oriented nonwoven fabrics industry, since they lift duties on roll goods and other products and formalize other trade liberalization measures.

"Free trade agreements with these dynamic economies were negotiated years ago; yet, they've languished," US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue said in response to news of the Senate breakthrough. "If they are passed, they will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. If they aren't, we'll lose 380,000 jobs to our competitors that have cut their own deals with these countries. Let's get these agreements done already."

Our sentiments exactly.


CPSIA reform measure finally gets thru Congress
After months of deliberation, not to mention years of challenges endured by US companies, on August 1 Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation fixing some (although certainly not all) of the flaws in the controversial Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). The bipartisan measure (H.R. 2715) which cleared the House by a vote of 421 to 2 and was adopted by unanimous consent in the Senate, " makes great strides toward cleaning up the regulatory mess created by the CPSIA," according to a House Energy and Commerce Committee news release. It now heads to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.

Among the key modifications, the measure changes from retrospective to prospective, a recently-imposed 100 parts per million lead content limit in children's products, allowing retailers and manufacturers to continue selling inventory produced before the new limits went into effect on Aug. ust 14, 2011. The law also excludes inaccessible parts of children's toys and child care articles from the CPSIA's phthalate content limits, allows the CPSC to except certain products from the CPSIA's tracking label requirements and expands the Commission's ability to exempt certain products from the law's lead limits. H.R. 2715 also requires CPSC to seek public input on ways to reduce burden, cost and redundancy of the CPSIA's third-party testing requirements.

The law makes a few modest changes to the CPSC's embattled consumer complaint database, www.SaferProducts.gov, including requiring the commission to delay posting product complaints for five days if it receives notice of materially inaccurate information and to attempt to get submitters to provide a model/serial number or a photo of the product in question.

Although business groups welcomed the law's revisions to www.SaferProducts.gov, most agree that there are not enough changes to prevent frivolous and unsubstantiated consumer product complaints. Illustrating this point, Paul Nathanson of Bracewell & Giuliani, a firm that represents industry, recently shared with the Bureau of National Affairs several examples of recent database entries, among them: one that blames a manufacturer for"poor can design" after a can fell out of a cabinet and hit him in the head; another describing a wound sustained after an individual used a "razor-sharp" pizza cutter and yet another describing an incident in which a 37-year old individual died after consuming alcohol and driving an all-terrain vehicle off a cliff.You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Unfortunately for database critics, the future of a Republican-backed House Appropriations Bill for FY 2012 that would withhold funding for Saferproducts.gov appears highly questionable due to a slim but still existing Democratic majority in the Senate.


EPA rule requires more chemical data
US manufacturers and importers of industrial chemicals will soon have to report more information about these substances and do so more often, according to a regulation recently finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On August 2, the agency issued a prepublication version of a final rule that makes significant changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act's "Inventory Update Rule." In addition to changing the name to the Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) rule, the revised language requires chemical companies that generate byproduct substances (e.g. manufacturers of paper, primary metal, electronic components and more) to report production volumes every four years instead of five. It also lowers the volume thresholds for requiring more information on processing and use. Specifically, the volume thresholds that trigger submission of substance processing and use data will fall from the current 300,000 pounds per year per site to 25,000 pounds by 2016. That matches the 25,000-pound threshold already in place for production volume reporting and subjects many more companies to the new data requirements. Those affected will also need to provide production volume data every year in a given four-year cycle beginning in 2016, will have to submit reports electronically under the revised rule and will face new limits on their ability to claim certain information business confidential.

"Collecting this critical information on widely used chemicals will enable EPA to more effectively identify and address potential chemical risks," says Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. "The new electronic reporting requirement and limits on confidentiality claims also will bring EPA's data collection effort into the 21st Century and give the American people greater access to a wider range of information on chemicals to which their children and families are exposed every day."

Many industry groups, however, are concerned about the CDR's potential impacts on the already beleaguered economy. In comments submitted to the agency last fall, the National Association of Manufacturers, INDA and several other groups argued that the more frequent, multi-year reporting and expanded data-gathering requirements will impose huge burdens on an array of domestic manufacturers, particularly smaller companies, and will likely result in unreliable data.

As it stands, the first reporting period under the revised language is set to begin February 1 and run through June 30, 2012.To learn more about the EPA's final Chemical Data Reporting rule, visit: www.epa.gov/iur/

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