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Key U.S. lawmakers agree to trade authority deal: aides

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[December 16, 2013]  By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters)  Three top U.S. lawmakers on key congressional committees have reached a bipartisan deal on legislation the White House needs to advance international trade agreements and will introduce the measure early next month, congressional aides said on Saturday.

The Trade Promotion Authority legislation, which would let the White House put trade agreements before Congress for an up or down vote without amendments, is considered crucial to enacting trade deals and could pave the way for major accords with Pacific Rim and European trading partners.

The agreement was reached among Max Baucus, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over trade, the committee's senior Republican, Orrin Hatch, and Representative Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is also oversees trade issues.

The agreement was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The measure has a provision directing negotiators to consider currency issues as a negotiating objective, one aide said. Details were not available.

Foreign exchange fairness is a critical issue for many U.S. businesses, which argue that some countries suppress the value of their currency against the U.S. dollar to give their products an advantage over U.S. goods. China, with which the United States had a $315 billion trade deficit in 2012, is a frequent target of such complaints.

U.S. negotiators are in the endgame of a deal with countries in Latin America and Asia known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and are also working on an accord with the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

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Trade deals usually lower the cost of goods into the United States but also may cause job losses as manufacturers move facilities abroad where labor is cheaper. Trade promotion authority is considered essential to prevent such deals, which are often laboriously negotiated over years, from getting bogged down in Congress.

The ambitious U.S.-led Tran-Pacific Partnership 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 countries failed to reach a deal on the pact at a conference in Singapore that ended on Tuesday, as divisions over handling of intellectual property, agricultural tariffs and state-owned enterprises were unresolved.

The third round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations involving the United States and the EU is expected to take place in mid-December.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; editing by Vicki Allen)

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