Senators Push Bill to Cut Red Tape as Pacific Trade Vote Looms

Leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are seeking to help developing nations ease their customs procedures as Congress prepares to take up what would be the world’s biggest regional free-trade agreement to date.

Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, Thursday night introduced a bill to streamline U.S. aid to cut red tape at international borders and to provide private sector input in the process.

“Helping developing countries eliminate trade constraints will expand markets for U.S. businesses and support important policy goals,” Corker said in a statement.

The legislation comes amid a spurt of action to link economies across the globe. In the coming weeks Congress will begin consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation pact that would cover over 40 percent of the world’s economic output, after negotiators concluded more than five years of talks earlier this month. The accord has highlighted attention -- both for and against -- trade issues in Congress.

In recent weeks, countries including New Zealand, Thailand and the 28-nation European Union have approved the World Trade Organization’s so-called Trade Facilitation Agreement, designed to ease customs procedures at international borders.

The bill from Corker and Cardin would set up a five-year pilot program that sets aside $50 million annually to help qualifying nations implement the WTO accord. It also establishes a committee to oversee what the senators say is about $1 billion in U.S. trade assistance to developing nations, and it would create an advisory role by a private-sector panel.

Ed Gerwin, an independent trade consultant based in Falls Church, Virginia, said the trade assistance may be an area where lawmakers can agree, amid debate over broader trade deals, such as the Pacific pact.

“There’s huge potential, particularly for Africa, in this,” because red tape at borders in African nations can stymie commercial activity, he said in a phone interview.

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