January 2020 Government Affairs
U.S. Senate Expected to Ratify USMCA this Week
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters on Tuesday that the Senate is expected to vote on and pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) later this week. The USMCA would update and replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The House of Representatives already passed the USMCA overwhelmingly before heading home for the holidays in December. Canada will also have to ratify the new deal before it goes into effect.
President Trump to Sign Phase One Trade Agreement with China
On Wednesday, President Trump is expected to sign a “phase one” trade agreement with China at the White House. The deal includes a commitment by China to purchase at least $200 billion in U.S. exports over two years including food, manufactured goods, agricultural products, energy products and services. China is also committing to end its long-standing practice of forcing or pressuring foreign companies to transfer their technologies to Chinese companies. The agreement also reiterates the United States’ opposition to currency manipulation.
President Trump Backs Down on Brazil Steel and Aluminum Tariff Threat
President Trump recently told Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in a telephone call that he would not move forward on his threat to levy Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Brazil. On December 2, the president announced that he was planning to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Argentina and Brazil due to currency devaluations by both countries. It remains unclear whether the Trump administration still intends to levy tariffs on Argentina.
OSHA Publishes Minor Corrections to Safety Standards
Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued minor corrections for its Walking-Working Surfaces, Personal Protective Equipment and Special Industries standards to remove “typographical, formatting and clerical errors,” which was published in a final rule.
In its Personal Fall Protection Systems Standard (1910.140), OSHA will no longer require the gate strength of snaphooks and carabiners to be proof tested to 3,600 pounds in all directions. Instead, the “intended requirement” is that the gate of carabiners and snaphooks are “capable of withstanding a minimum load of 3,600 pounds without the gate separating from the nose of the snaphook or carabiner body by more than 0.125 inches.” OSHA made the correction to remain consistent with the ANSI/ASSE Z359.12-2009 standard. OSHA stated that proof testing the gates may cause damage to the equipment and make them unsafe.
The other corrections contained in the rule:
- Ladders, 1910.23(d)(4): The previous rule required that “the side rails of through or side-step ladders extend 42 inches above the top of an access level or landing platform served by the ladder.” OSHA added the words “at least” before “42 inches.”
- Stairways, 1910.25(a): OSHA clarified that articulated stairs are not covered by this standard, and added a title to Figure D-8 in 1910.25(c).
- Scaffolds and Rope Descent Systems, 1910.27(b)(1)(i): OSHA corrected the metric equivalent of 5,000 pounds to 2,268 kilograms. It previously was listed as 268 kg.
- Fall Protection Systems and Falling Object Protection – Criteria and Practices, 1910.29: OSHA corrected Figure D-11 to include labels for the “top rail” and “end post.”
- Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, 1910.269(h)(2): OSHA changed the incorrect references to ladder standards to 1910.23(c)(4) and (c)(9).
The corrections took effect Dec. 17.
Congress Passes FY 2020 Government Funding Legislation and Tax Extenders
On Dec. 20, President Trump signed two bills passed by Congress which fully fund the government through fiscal year 2020. The first bill appropriates money for national security programs while the second bill funds domestic and international assistance programs. You can find details of both bills here.
This legislation also extends a number of key small business tax incentives, known as “tax extenders”, through the end of calendar year 2020. These include tax incentives for employers operating in Empowerment Zones. They apply retroactively to 2018 and 2019.
In addition, the funding package permanently repeals the health insurance tax (HIT) which is a fee imposed annually on fully insured health care plans that are offered by many small and medium-sized businesses. The bill also repeals the so-called “Cadillac Tax” which is a 40% excise levied on high-cost health plans.