By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers urged the White House on Thursday to step up efforts to win approval of "trade promotion authority," which is needed to wrap up trade deals and to respond to congressional concerns about foreign currency practices.
"While we are making progress (on crafting a trade promotion authority bill), we will not be able to do that without the administration's full involvement and engagement," House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp told U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman during a hearing.
"We really do need to be full partners in this venture if it's to succeed."
Trade promotion authority, or TPA, allows the White House to submit trade agreements to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without amendments. It is considered vital to encouraging other countries to put their best offers on the table in talks with the United States.
TPA expired in 2007 and Camp has been working on a bill to renew it with Representative Sandy Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and Senators Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch, the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
The bipartisan effort is seen as the best chance to pass the legislation, which many Democrats have opposed in the past because they believe trade agreements cause U.S. job losses rather than create them.
Congress is considering the trade bill because the White House is engaged in two huge trade negotiations: one with Japan and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region and another with the 28 nations of the European Union.
The talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are further along and Froman repeated on Thursday that the administration hopes to reach a deal by the end of the year.
Froman also said he believed the White House needed TPA in order to finish the negotiations, but declined to give lawmakers any sort of deadline for passing the bill.
Negotiators are currently in Malaysia for the 18th round of talks on the Trans-Pacific pact.
Levin also urged the White House to become more engaged in talks on TPA, saying many lawmakers have questions about the substance of trade agreements being negotiated and what oversight role they would have once they are concluded.
"Simply to say let's pass (TPA) without focusing on its contents, I think, is a serious mistake substantively, and, procedurally, would likely lead to much more conflict instead of confluence," the Michigan Democrat said.
Camp and Levin also stressed the need for the administration to talk to lawmakers about what plans, if any, it has for addressing currency concerns in trade agreements.
That issue has come to the fore because of Japan's recent decision to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Many U.S. lawmakers believe Japan has driven down the value of its currency to give its exporters an unfair price advantage, particularly in the auto sector.
They want the pact to contain rules against "currency manipulation," a politically difficult area that has not been negotiated in previous trade agreements.
"I think the administration needs to face up very directly to the inclusion of currency issues in both TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the discussions with Europe," Levin said.
Camp was less emphatic about the need for currency rules in trade pacts, but said it was an important issue for many members of Congress whose support will be needed to approve trade deals.
"That's something I want to work very closely with the administration on so that we develop the right policy," Camp told reporters after the hearing.
Froman avoided taking a stand, noting that the U.S. Treasury Department usually takes the lead on currency issues.
"Whether it's through the G7 in the case of Japan, or the G20, the IMF, or elsewhere with regard to China, we've made very clear the importance of exchange rates being based on market determined forces," he told lawmakers.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen and Stacey Joyce)
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