WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Republican U.S. lawmaker on Friday urged President Barack Obama to “go big” and “go smart” in pursuit of new trade agreements in his second term in office.
Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of a key trade subcommittee in the House of Representatives, also urged Obama to seek legislation known as “Trade Promotion Authority” to facilitate the negotiation and approval of trade deals.
Republicans accuse Obama, who was re-elected to a four-year term last week, of dragging his feet on trade deals because of opposition from labor unions who are concerned that U.S. jobs would be lost.
“We need to go big. We need to go smart. But above all we need to go on trade,” Brady said at an event organized by the Global Business Dialogue and the Washington law firm of McDermott Will & Emery.
Brady outlined an agenda that includes many initiatives already being pursued by the Obama administration, including a regional free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region and possible free trade talks with the European Union.
Beyond that, he said, “America needs to lead again on trade” through projects such as a bilateral investment treaty with China and “an honest assessment” of ways to boost trade with two other major developing countries, Brazil and India.
The call for Obama to vigorously engage on trade comes amid expectations of new leadership in 2013 at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Current U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has said he does not expect to serve a second term.
U.S. business and congressional sources say a number of Obama administration officials appear to be under consideration for the job, including White House international economic affairs advisor Michael Froman, U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis.
Brady also urged the Obama administration, in consultation with Congress, to weigh free trade talks with additional countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Georgia.
The United States should also consider bringing additional Latin America countries into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement currently being negotiated with Mexico, Peru, Chile, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, he said.
Brady said it was vital for conclusion of the TPP that the White House has TPA, which would allow it to submit trade deals to Congress for a straight yes-or-no vote without any amendments.
The legislation, which expired in June 2007, is generally considered essential to ensure that other countries put their best offers on the table in trade talks with the United States.
“I think it’s important that we move on TPA next year. Every president needs to have negotiating authority,” Brady said.
Congress and the Obama administration are currently focused on negotiations to avert the “fiscal cliff,” a package of tax hikes and spending cuts that are set to be triggered at the beginning of 2013.
Obama, during his first four years in office, did not ask for TPA. Brady said the time is right now for the White House and lawmakers to start talks on the topic.
Brady also said he is open to the Obama administration’s idea of reorganizing government trade agencies to help companies increase export sales and create jobs.
But he said he did not support burying the USTR inside a large government bureaucracy, as the White House plan proposes.
“We ought to be cautious not to turn a nimble cheetah into a lumbering rhinoceros,” Brady said of the USTR.
Editing by Will Dunham and Paul Simao