Concerns over tariff increases like those imposed by the Trump administration during the past year have prompted a US lawmaker to introduce a bill that would strengthen congressional authority over any new or additional tariff plans.

The 'Reclaiming Congressional Trade Authority Act' was introduced by Representative Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee's Trade Subcommittee. 

The legislation would limit any new or additional tariffs imposed on national security grounds – including those under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act or the Trading with the Enemy Act – to 120 days unless approved by Congress. Section 232 was the grounds for tariffs on steel and aluminum imposed last year.

The measure would also increase and formalise the role of Congress in non-national security tariffs, including those under Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974, the law under which recent tariffs on goods from China have been imposed. 

The administration would be required to provide Congress with goals and strategy behind proposed tariff actions, and Congress would be able to block the tariffs through a joint resolution of disapproval, subject to presidential veto.

The bill would also require the administration to provide Congress with more information on both national security and non-national security tariffs. The new measure is a companion bill to legislation introduced in March by Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va.

"We agree with the need to deliver fair and balanced trade deals, but taxing Americans isn't the answer – especially without a single vote from Congress," says David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation (NRF). 

"At a time when American businesses and consumers are facing unprecedented tariffs imposed unilaterally, it's time to reexamine the appropriate balance on trade policy between Congress and the executive branch. This legislation represents an important step forward. We urge members of both parties to join this effort and protect hardworking Americans from a growing trade war that could destroy thousands of jobs and raise costs for families across the country."

Tariffs of 25% have already been imposed on $250bn in goods from China, and the Trump administration is currently considering expanding the tariffs to virtually all Chinese imports by imposing the same levy on another $300bn. 

The NRF is one of hundreds of company and industry representatives that have been testifying at a hearing by the Office of the US Trade Representative, asking the administration to reevaluate its strategy for dealing with China. 

A new report prepared for NRF found the proposed new round of tariffs would cost Americans $4.4bn each year for apparel, and $2.5bn for footwear. It also suggests the new tariffs could lift US apparel prices by 5%.

Expert analysis

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