Top U.S. trade official urges Congress to back trade agenda

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jan 27, 2015 6:33 AM

By Krista Hughes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. trade official urged Congress to back the administration's trade agenda on Tuesday and said an ambitious Pacific trade pact is nearing completion.

In testimony to a key congressional committee, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the administration looked to lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation allowing a streamlined approval process for trade deals, such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"Our trade agenda is committed to supporting more good jobs, promoting growth, and strengthening America’s middle class," he told the Senate Committee on Finance.

TPP chief negotiators are meeting in New York this week and some hope the pact can be wrapped up by mid-March.

Froman said the aim was to conclude the TPP in 2015, along with a global pact on information technology products, and "the contours of a final (TPP) agreement are coming into focus."

"We are not done yet but I feel confident that we are making good progress and we can close out a positive package soon," he said.

But the White House's plans to seal a trade agreement covering 40 percent of the world economy and fast-track legislation in 2015 face opposition from some Democrats worried about the impact on jobs and some conservative Republicans opposed to giving President Barack Obama more power.

Trade promotion authority allows the White House to submit trade deals to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, without amendments, in exchange for setting negotiating goals.

Senate committee chairman Orrin Hatch said TPA would ensure a high-standard TPP and it would be a "grave mistake" to close the deal before the bill passed.

"Doing so may lead to doubt as to whether the U.S. could have gotten a better agreement, ultimately eroding support for TPP and jeopardizing its prospects for passage."

Lobbying is intense on both sides of the trade argument. Business groups and unions are bringing business owners to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers about their experience with trade and urging letter-writing campaigns. Senior administration officials are calling lawmakers, aiming to reach out to about 80 Democratic House members.

In a bid to address concerns about jobs, Froman told the hearing - which was briefly interrupted by anti-trade protesters - U.S. exports support a record 11.3 million jobs and export-related jobs pay up to 18 percent more.

As part of the public relations blitz, USTR unveiled a website on Tuesday that seeks to show how Americans will benefit from the TPP. ((https://ustr.gov/))

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)