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Published December 16, 2013, 10:21 AM

Congress to consider fast-track trade rule

The Obama administration could secure “fast-track” trade promotion authority from Congress early next year, a leading lawmaker says, handing it the means to secure two big new trade deals.

By: Elvina Nawaguna, Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration could secure “fast-track” trade promotion authority from Congress early next year, a leading lawmaker says, handing it the means to secure two big new trade deals.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., says lawmakers had made considerable progress in pulling together a Trade Promotion Authority bill and expect to pass it within the first few months of 2014.

The Obama administration says it needs Congress to approve TPA, which would allow any trade deal to move swiftly through Congress. With TPA, lawmakers cannot amend or filibuster trade deals but can still vote for or against them.

The administration needs that fast-track rule to clinch two huge trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.

The administration argues that TPA, which expired in 2007, is useful in coaxing countries to put their best deal on the table without fearing that Congress could reopen and amend them.

Camp’s comments came in response to the conclusion of the TPP ministerial meeting on Dec. 10 in Singapore.

Free-trade bloc

The ambitious U.S.-led TPP would create a free-trade bloc with 11 other countries including Vietnam, Chile, New Zealand, Japan and Mexico, in an area that makes up about 40 percent of the global economy.

The Singapore meeting ended in no TPP deal, but the Obama administration says significant progress was made and that the nations found common ground on a number of issues during the four-day meeting.

The 12 countries failed to reach agreement on some thorny issues, including intellectual property, agricultural tariffs and state-owned enterprises. Differences over farm tariffs between the U.S. and Japan also presented a major roadblock in the negotiations.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman had said the U.S. was aiming to finalize a deal before the end of this year. The negotiations will now move into another year, with the next meeting scheduled for January.

The third round of the TTIP negotiations involving the U.S. and the EU are expected to take place in mid-December.

“Concluding these negotiations, as well as other trade agreements, will require congressional passage of Trade Promotion Authority legislation,” Camp says. “Given the considerable bipartisan and bicameral progress that has been made on that front, I expect we will be in a position to do so early next year if we have the administration’s active participation.”

A spokeswoman for Camp says the lawmaker has been working with Sen. Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the panel, to put together a TPA bill.

But any legislation could face roadblocks from a number of Republicans and Democrats in the House who say the administration has not adequately consulted them on ongoing trade negotiations and that TPA would strip Congress of its constitutional right to vet trade agreements.

Other lawmakers say they would not grant TPA unless issues such as currency manipulation and intellectual property protection are addressed in any TPP deal.

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