Hatch warns of waiting on trade promotion authority

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Congress must pass trade promotion authority (TPA) before the Obama administration completes work on a massive Asia-Pacific trade agreement. 

Hatch warned during a Tuesday hearing that “it would be a grave mistake for the administration to close TPP before Congress enacts TPA.”  

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"Doing so may lead to doubt as to whether the U.S. could have gotten a better agreement, ultimately eroding support for TPP and jeopardizing its prospects for passage in Congress,” he said.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanRyan calls on US to forge trade deal with UK UK vote triggers talks with US Furman says Pacific trade deal will pass this year MORE, who testified before House and Senate committees said negotiations are nearly done on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

Meanwhile, Froman said the 12-nation TPP is inching closer to the finish line, and the time frame for completing TPP is “a small number of months."

"We are not done yet but I feel confident that we are making good progress and we can close out a positive package soon," Froman told Senate Finance lawmakers.

He told lawmakers that trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track, would apply a broad framework for the White House to negotiate trade agreements, including the TPP and the deal between the European Union and the United States.

Froman argued that fast-track, which allows trade deals to go through Congress unamended, also gives Congress a bigger stake in the discussions and their ability to steer the contents of agreements. 

Trade supporters have argued that the 11 other nations negotiating TPP won't put forward their best offers without the assurance that Congress won’t change the agreement.

But House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said the focus should remain on the TPP and Congress shouldn’t give up its leverage on fast-track until lawmakers are “fully confident that USTR is on a clear path toward effectively meeting” trade goals.

Congress needs a fully active role to get TPP right, he said.

The Tuesday hearings covered a broad range of issues from agriculture market access to currency manipulation concerns. 

While Froman said that the Obama administration is very concerned about currency manipulation, he deferred to Treasury Secretary Jack LewJack LewOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico Ryan calls on US to forge trade deal with UK MORE, whose agency handles the issue.

Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.) said he was disappointed to learn that currency provisions won't be part of the TPP and that means he most likely won't support the agreement under those circumstances.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who along with Levin is considering standalone currency legislation, said dealing with currency values "is an absolutely critical issue in terms of making sure that American workers, American people are getting a good deal of trade agreement."

Republican Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), a former U.S. Trade representative, told Froman that while he understands that currency is a Treasury issue, the issue is about intervention and there is broad Democratic and Republican concern about the issue that he says affects the so-called level playing field for the United States with all of its trading partners. 

"I hope you will put time and effort into it," he said.