Fast-track authority, currency manipulation remain top trade issues amid TPP delay

Business groups and lawmakers are making a two-pronged push for completion of fast-track authority and the addition of currency manipulation provisions into a delayed Asia-Pacific trade deal. 

Trade advocates used the announcement on Tuesday that negotiators of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) had failed to reach an agreement in time to make a self-imposed year-end deadline to keep up their pressure on other initiatives. 

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House and Senate leaders are nearing the end of talks on the details of a trade promotion authority (TPA) bill but an agreement remained elusive, so far, this week, and may get pushed until next year, according to a House aide. 

"Concluding these negotiations, as well as other trade agreements, will require congressional passage of Trade Promotion Authority legislation," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). 

"Given the considerable bipartisan and bicameral progress that has been made on that front, I expect we will be in a position to do so early next year if we have the administration’s active participation."

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said in his push for TPA that "trade agreements today address a broad range of policy areas, so members of Congress must play a role, and Congress as a whole must be a full partner in the development and oversight of trade agreements."

Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were among business groups urging Congress and the White House to work together on passage of TPA.

"Trade promotion authority is an essential partnership between Congress and the Administration to complete trade agreements" such as TPP and a U.S.-European Union deal "that benefit the U.S. economy and support American jobs,” said BRT President John Engler. 

Myron Brilliant, the Chamber's executive vice president and head of international affairs, said that while talks move forward next month, especially in search of a breakthrough on market access issues, "we are optimistic" that Congress will soon consider a fast-track measure. 

The United States is engaged in talks with 11 other countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — in trying to expand trade into the Pacific Rim.

But the issue of currency manipulation remained as a major problem for lawmakers — a majority in each chamber have called on the addition of currency provisions that would set up a framework for determining and solving the problem. 

While U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said that he understands that the issue is of "great importance" it has not been broached in the TPP talks. 

"Well, the Treasury Department has the lead on this," he said. "We are in consultations with our stakeholders, with Congress, and continuing to have discussions about what’s the most effective way to deal with this important issue."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) joined the chorus of calls for Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Froman to address currency manipulation in the talks.  

This most recent round of negotiations did not produce any agreement on currency manipulation, despite the fact that bipartisan majorities in both Houses of Congress support such an agreement," she said.

"It is disappointing that the latest round of international negotiations did not include any agreement on currency manipulation,” she said.

American Automotive Policy Council President Matt Blunt called it "disappointing that the U.S. government has yet to bring up currency concerns in the negotiations and we urge them to do so as TPP discussions continue." 

For AAPC, which represents the nation's automakers, to support TPP, "it is imperative that strong and enforceable currency language — a key priority for the industry and supported by bipartisan majorities in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate — is included in the final agreement.”

Overall, Froman said significant progress had been made during the past few days at the Singapore talks, but there was more work to be done. 

"It was a great set of meetings, very successful in that the TPP ministers really accomplished an enormous amount across the various texts of the TPP agreement by working together in a collaborative way to identify potential landing zones on the great majority of the outstanding issues," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Froman said those talks provided "great momentum."

"You know, it's easy to get a quick agreement — all you have to do is draw up your level of ambition and agree to anything," he said.

"And what was interesting about this meeting is that there was no temptation to do that."

Instead, he said, there was a greater focus to reach a high-standard agreement and what will be needed to do that.

Talks are expected to continue in January but negotiators will continue talks across the chapters of the text, he said. 

Froman pointed to issues with Japan — talks are running on a parallel track along with the TPP negotiations to provide greater market access there for U.S. exports. 

"With Japan specifically we made some progress on our parallel negotiations on autos, insurance and other non-tariff measures, but we have further to go, we are not there yet," he said. "And on other market access issues, there is also further work to be done."

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has suggested that Froman be willing to ink a deal with nations that are ready to agree to the most ambitious of trade rules and market access. 

"Our focus is on working to finish this with all 12 countries, and of course there are additional countries that have expressed interest  in joining down the road," Froman said.

"And I think all 12 countries are focused on doing that. You know, clearly everybody has, each country has its issues, and it articulates those issues through the negotiations. But everyone is working very intensively on trying to complete this agreement in a way that all 12 could join."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he hoped negotiators can deliver on the commitment to an "ambitious and comprehensive outcome" in the next few months.