WASHINGTON The top U.S. trade official, Michael Froman, told lawmakers a major trade pact with Pacific Rim trading partners is "on a two-month trajectory," the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate said on Tuesday, although the trade office said there was no set timeline for the deal.
Negotiators hope to wind up talks this year on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would link 12 countries from the United States to Japan and New Zealand and cover nearly 40 percent of the world economy, but no deadline has been given.
"On the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S. Trade Representative has been calling a number of us and saying that he thinks we are sort of on a two-month trajectory to getting something he'd like us to take up in Congress," Senator John Cornyn told reporters.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office said in a statement substance would dictate when to complete the deal, which seeks to lower tariffs and set common rules on issues ranging from copyright to labor protections.
"The coming months will be an important time in trade policy. At home, we are working on bipartisan trade legislation. And with our TPP partners we are making important progress, though the substance of the negotiations will drive the timeline for completion," USTR spokesman Trevor Kincaid said.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel told business representatives and diplomats at the Japan Society in New York that TPP was "almost there."
Paul Ryan, the head of the House of Representatives committee responsible for trade, said fast track authority would help get a better deal from trading partners and Congress would push ahead with legislation "first thing."
Fast-track gives Congress only an up-or-down vote on free trade agreements in exchange for setting negotiating goals and laying out rules for consulting with lawmakers.
Republican Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said it was premature to talk about when the legislation could be introduced or whether it would differ from a bill introduced last year, which never reached a vote.
"We're going to go through all these issues with our members to get consensus on our agenda and our timeline and we are going to consult with the Senate as well to get things to match up," he told reporters, noting trade would be discussed at a retreat for Republican lawmakers on Thursday and Friday.
(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Eric Beech and Phil Berlowitz)