WASHINGTON Jan 9 U.S. lawmakers on Thursday
proposed a bill to give the White House power to fast-track
international trade agreements as the United States gears up for
a hectic year of trade negotiations.
Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) would let the White House
put trade deals before Congress for an up or down vote without
amendments. This would be a boon given the United States is
currently negotiating with Pacific Rim and European Union
countries in two separate pacts that would encompass nearly
two-thirds of the global economy and trade.
The bipartisan proposal would set avoiding currency
manipulation as a goal for U.S. trade negotiators, a
controversial measure that may upset major trading partners, and
aides said it would also strengthen rules for agriculture.
"The TPA legislation that we are introducing today will make
sure that these trade deals get done, and get done right," said
Democrat Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,
which has jurisdiction over trade.
But passage of the bill is not a sure thing, although it is
also backed by the Senate Finance Committee's senior Republican,
Orrin Hatch, and Representative Dave Camp, the Republican
chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which also
oversees trade issues.
Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways
and Means panel, declined to join the proposal and said he was
working with colleagues on separate legislation.
In a worrying sign for its prospects, 151 House Democrats
said in a letter to President Barack Obama in November they
would oppose fast-track authority due to a lack of consultation
over the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said it will lobby
lawmakers to support the fast-track power, which lapsed in 2007,
and said sealing the trade pacts was vital for jobs and growth.
Trade deals can lower the cost of goods imported into the
United States and boost markets for U.S. exports, which Obama
said in 2010 he wanted to double by 2015, but critics say they
can also hurt local industry and jobs.
Trade promotion authority is considered essential to secure
agreement on the TPP with 11 other countries around the Pacific,
including Japan, Australia and Canada, and the Transatlantic
Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.