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U.S. business lobby urges action on fast-track trade power

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[January 09, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters)  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday urged Congress to give the White House authority to fast-track international trade agreements and said major deals in the pipeline could stumble without the measure.

Trade Promotion Authority legislation, which is expected to be presented this week with bipartisan support, would let the White House put trade agreements before Congress for an up or down vote without amendments.

The Chamber's president, Thomas Donohue, urged quick approval of the bill, given that major accords are being negotiated with Pacific Rim and European trading partners.

"We are going to do all we can to make the case for approval," Donohue said in an address to lay out 2014 priorities for the Chamber, the country's biggest business lobby group.

Trade deals can lower the cost of goods imported into the United States and boost markets for U.S. exports, but critics express concern about the impact of overseas competition on local workers and industry.

Trade promotion authority is considered essential to secure agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other Pacific Rim countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union, two major trade deals that the United States is negotiating this year. But some lawmakers have complained that fast-tracking would exclude them from the process.

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"It will take a little while, but we will get it, the votes are there," Donohue told reporters after his speech.

"If you don't have it, at some point ... the people you are negotiating with are not going to agree to a deal without an understanding of how the Congress will participate."

Agreement on the legislation was reached last month by Democrat Max Baucus, chairman 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 also oversees trade issues.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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