Senate's Hatch says making progress on fast-track trade talks

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 16, 2015 6:15 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican, said on Monday he is making progress with his Democratic colleagues on a bill to streamline the passage of free-trade deals through Congress.

"We're making headway," Hatch told reporters. "I have high hopes that we will get there. I chatted with the president (Barack Obama) today. He said it's very important to him and he wants me to get it through."

Hatch has been negotiating with the panel's top Democrat, Ron Wyden, and the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Paul Ryan.

Fast-track legislation is seen as key to sealing a 12-nation Pacific trade pact.

Hatch said Wyden, who is pushing for a mechanism to strip unsatisfactory deals of their special status, wanted some concessions Republicans balked at.

"We have given quite a bit on changes to senator Wyden and we have reached a point where there isn't much more we can give," he said.

Wyden said he did not want to negotiate in public.

The delay in agreeing on legislation is blamed by some for pushing back the timetable on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Chief negotiators wrapped up talks in Hawaii on Sunday without setting a date for ministers to meet and take the tough political decisions needed to close the deal.

"There are still issues that have big gaps among member nations, so working-level or chief negotiator-level talks will be needed before moving on to ministerial-level talks,” a Japanese official told reporters in Tokyo.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is reported to visit Washington during Japan's "Golden Week", a string of holidays from late April to early May.

Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said he wants to reach a broad agreement to two-way trade talks between Japan and the United States, which is seen to play a crucial part for the overall TPP deal, before Abe's possible visit to the U.S.

Amari also said he hopes to hold talks with his counterpart U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in spring before the expected Abe's visit to the United States.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Takashi Umekawa; Editing by Sandra Maler, Bill Trott, Mohammad Zargham and Michael Perry)