TOKYO (Reuters) - The chairman of a U.S. congressional committee responsible for trade said on Thursday he expects passage of legislation to fast-track trade deals soon, a vital step towards a Pacific trade pact covering a large chunk of the global economy.
Negotiators from 12 Pacific nations hope to conclude talks on a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) within months, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said legislation known as trade promotion authority (TPA) should pass soon, easing a major hurdle.
"We're very close, we're in the 11th hour of negotiating the final pieces of TPA," Ryan, in Tokyo with a Congressional delegation for negotiations, told a news conference ahead of a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"Once those negotiations are wrapped up we anticipate moving ... fairly quickly, and that's really this spring," he said.
Ryan said he hoped the TPP could then be concluded soon after the TPA was passed. Dave Reichert, a lawmaker who is also a member of Ryan's committee, said they hoped to clinch a deal by the end of the year.
The TPP pact would link 12 countries from the United States to Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and cover nearly 40 percent of the world economy. Disagreement on farm exports between the United States and Japan, the pact's two biggest economies, has hindered progress.
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said on Wednesday concluding an agreement by Japan's initial target of as early as March was becoming difficult.
Japan is keen on protecting sectors such as beef, sugar and dairy, although Japanese media has reported the government is considering concessions.
Under U.S. trade promotion authority, the executive branch under President Barack Obama negotiates trade agreements with input from Congress. But once an agreement has been concluded, TPA means it cannot be changed by Congress and is subject to simple votes in the House and Senate.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel)