January 9, 2014 / 7:00 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. lawmakers propose fast-track bill for trade agreements

WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (Reuters) - 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.

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