WASHINGTON, Nov 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Wednesday he still hopes for bipartisan support in Congress on granting the White House the authority to fast track trade deals but added the timing was up to lawmakers.
Congress has yet to consider a Trade Promotion Authority bill, introduced in January, that would prevent lawmakers from amending trade deals in exchange for setting negotiating objectives.
Some experts say trading partners will not put up their best offers if Congress can later pick apart the deal and that the lack of TPA is slowing down Pacific trade talks.
Asked about the prospect that Congress does not pass TPA and the United States is unable to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Froman said: “I don’t consider that possibility.”
USTR officials had been working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress for months to produce “a bill that could get bipartisan support whenever the opportunity in Congress arises for that to be taken up,” Froman said at a Wilson Center event, stressing that the timing was up to congressional leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who controls which bills come to the floor, had been unwilling to move on TPA before mid-term elections earlier this month.
But he said on Tuesday he would be “happy to take a look” at a fast-track bill. At the same time, however, the head of the Senate committee responsible for the legislation, fellow Democrat Ron Wyden, said that Congress had little time left this year and his committee had other priorities.
Froman said he was optimistic about working with Republicans, who will control both the House and Senate next year, on a trade agenda which includes a deal with Europe as well as the 12-nation TPP, a key part of the U.S. administration’s engagement with Asia.
One stumbling block to finishing TPP has been a stalemate with Japan over tariffs on agricultural imports, and Froman said news the world’s third-biggest economy unexpectedly slipped back into recession might drive home the need for reforms in Japan and give the TPP more impetus.
Manufacturers said on Wednesday Congress should also urgently pass legislation to cut tariffs on raw materials and inputs for U.S.-made goods.
Tariff cuts in the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill expired in 2013 and further delay would cost factories $748 million in extra taxes over three years, the National Association of Manufacturers said. (Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Bernard Orr)