WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers are preparing a new push to stop trading partners unfairly manipulating their currencies to gain an export advantage, a senior Democrat said on Thursday.
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow said she was working with colleagues from both parties on a possible standalone bill to stop currency cheats and also aimed at ensuring that an ambitious Pacific trade pact includes strict currency rules.
"We are talking about the right time to introduce a bill," Stabenow said in an interview with Reuters. "Our message is that we should not agree to any trade agreement that does not have strong currency enforcement."
The planned push is a further complication for U.S. officials already fighting opposition to fast-tracking trade deals through Congress and worries about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP deal covers 12 countries representing 40 percent of the world economy, including Japan, whose yen currency has weakened due to the country's economic stimulus measures.
Fresh demands from Congress would come at a delicate time for the TPP, which officials hope to wrap up within months after nearly five years of discussions.
But U.S. auto makers fear increased competition from Japan, and the American Automotive Policy Council, which represents Chrysler, Ford and General Motors - all based in Michigan - has said it will oppose a deal without strong currency rules.
Democrat Sherrod Brown, who has introduced similar legislation in the past, is coordinating bipartisan work on a bill in the Senate, and House lawmakers have also been consulted.
Republican Pat Tiberi, who chairs the trade subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said the possibility of a separate bill was still under discussion but the issue had traction from both parties.
"I think there's bipartisan concern about currency manipulation," he said, although there was a risk that including such rules would upset TPP partners.
A Mexican official familiar with the TPP negotiations said it looked too late to include a currency measure in the negotiations.
Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler