Currency manipulation hangs over US trade agenda

Currency manipulation remains a major issue that could trip up the White House's ambitious trade agenda.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ford Motor Co. have aligned — along with a majority of lawmakers the House and the Senate — to oppose an Asia-Pacific trade deal unless it includes a framework that roots out and punishes currency manipulators.

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Brown applauded Joe Hinrichs, Ford's executive vice president and president of the Americas, for saying on Thursday that support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the U.S. automaker hinges on the addition of enforceable currency provisions into any future deal. 

Hinrichs, who spoke to the the Economic Club of Chicago, touted expanded global trade as an essential tool for U.S. businesses but argued that currency manipulation will cut into their ability to expand their global reach.

"For one thing, the TPP is not likely to generate any net benefits for American manufacturers if it does not address the critical issue of currency manipulation," he said.

The Center for Automotive Research has said that any agreement that fails to address currency manipulation will cost tens of thousands of American jobs, he said.

"The real elephant in the room right now is currency manipulation, and we need to make sure that it is not ignored. It represents the major trade barrier of the 21st century and it must be addressed in any future US trade agreements," Hinrichs said.

With the auto industry leading U.S. exports, Ford "will urge Congress to oppose a TPP agreement if it does not include strong and enforceable currency disciplines."

Brown introduced legislation in June that would provide consequences for countries that fail to adopt appropriate policies to eliminate currency misalignment. 

He said Congress shouldn’t approve expanded trade powers for President Obama, known as trade promotion authority, unless U.S. workers and businesses are "guaranteed a level playing field."

"And the Administration shouldn’t agree to any trade deal unless it evens the playing field and punishes currency manipulators."

The TPP is a proposed trade agreement that currently includes the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and Japan.