By Vicki Needham - 03/27/14 05:41 PM EDT
The top U.S. trade official will talk to the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees next week about the status of the White House’s ambitious trade agenda.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is scheduled to discuss a broad range of trade issues with lawmakers next Thursday, ranging from trade promotion authority (TPA) to two massive trade deals covering 40 total countries from the Atlantic to Pacific Rim.
But there has been a growing sense of urgency about accelerating the pace of completing the deal with the 28-nation European Union since the situation in Ukraine became critical.
On Wednesday, Obama suggested that the trade agreement could help with the situation with Ukraine and Russia over natural resources.
Once a trade agreement is in place, export licenses for projects, including liquefied natural gas destined to Europe would be much easier, "something that's obviously relevant in today's geopolitical climate,” he said.
Jay Timmons, head of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), said Thursday that even though the trade deal has been a top priority the "Ukraine situation has really accelerated the need to get deal a inked."
Timmons and other manufacturing industry leaders are heading to Europe next week where they expect their transatlantic counterparts to ask about the situation in Washington and whether Congress will grant fast-track authority to President Obama.
He said he routinely gets asked about the state of play on the trade powers that provide the White House with negotiating priorities from Congress while easing for a smooth path to passage.
His said his group will continue "aggressively working" for passage of a TPA bill and he said he is confident that lawmakers will eventually work out their differences.
“Clearly TPA is key to moving the trade agenda,” he said in a call with reporters.
The hearing will be the first on trade for new Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as he embarks on trying to find a way forward on fast-track authority, which has stalled out in Congress.
Panel ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has been urging Froman to testify before the committee to discuss the hefty trade agenda and provide guidance and information on where negotiations stand on TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Although Obama has been bogged down recently with foreign policy issues, the trade agenda remains a focus for many lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Former Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, who departed for China in February, introduced a fast-track measure in January with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Hatch that met an immediate wall of resistance from many Democrats.
For his part, Wyden has said he intends to take his time talking to lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol to determine the best way forward.
At this point, it is unlikely that TPA would get a vote before the mid-term elections later this year, although it hasn't been entirely ruled out by lawmakers pressing to move forward on expanding trade.
In the meantime, negotiators will continue working on the 12-nation TPP trade agreement.
President Obama is scheduled to make a four-nation trip through the Pacific Rim, including a stop in Japan.
The United States and Japan are working on parallel negotiations to solve a slew of market access issues that will be included in the larger agreement.
It is possible the a TPP deal could be done before the elections that would, in turn, necessitate trade promotion authority, probably some time next year.
This post was updated at 6:30 p.m. March 28.