UPDATE 5-US lawmakers unveil bill that holds key to Pacific trade deal – Reuters


(Adds background on trade promotion authority, supporters and
opponents)

By Krista Hughes

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) – Senior U.S. lawmakers
reached agreement on Thursday on a bill to give the White House
“fast track” authority to negotiate a trade pact with 11 other
Pacific nations that is central to President Barack Obama’s
strategic shift toward Asia.

The agreement sets the stage for a tough legislative battle
over Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which
would connect a dozen economies by cutting trade barriers and
harmonizing standards in a deal covering two-fifths of the world
economy and a third of global trade.

The bill gives lawmakers the right to set negotiating
objectives but would restrict them to a yes-or-no vote on trade
deals such as the ambitious TPP, a potential legacy-defining
achievement for the Obama administration.

The White House has faced pressure to make progress on the
bill ahead of a meeting between Obama and Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe on April 28 in Washington.

Japanese and U.S. officials met this week in Tokyo in a bid
to strike a two-way deal giving momentum to the pan-Pacific
pact. Japanese officials have said success depends on whether
the U.S. Congress approves measures to ease passage of trade
deals, or trade promotion authority (TPA).

“This is a smart, bipartisan compromise that will help move
America forward,” Republican Senate Finance Committee Chairman
Orrin Hatch said after leaders of Congress’s tax-writing
committees reached agreement on the legislation, which will be
introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Trade associations and lobbyists welcomed the bill’s
introduction but said it should be passed quickly and that it
could falter in the face of Congressional and partisan politics.
Unions immediately condemned it and announced a new advertising
campaign to pressure lawmakers.

TPP must pass Congress this year to avoid being bogged down
in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. elections.

FAST-TRACK

Japan and other TPP partners have said it is vital to have
fast-track authority, which gives trading partners certainty
that agreements will not be picked apart.

The deal between Hatch and the panel’s top Democrat, Ron
Wyden, to move Trade Promotion Authority ahead in tandem with a
bill to extend support for workers hurt by trade is no guarantee
legislation will pass Congress. Opponents are lobbying hard to
defeat it and many Democrats are still undecided.

“You bring up TPA in the House today, the best you would
have is a handful of Democrats,” Sander Levin, the top Democrat
on the House of Representatives committee responsible for trade,
said at a Bloomberg conference.

The bill also faces opposition from some conservative
Republicans opposed to delegating power to the White House, as
well as Democrats worried about the impact on jobs and the
environment.

Chuck Schumer, tipped to become the Senate’s Democratic
leader after the 2016 elections, told a committee hearing he
opposes TPA and that it is not fair to rush such an important
issue, a point also made by other Democrats on the Senate
Finance committee.

“You can’t fast track fast track – that’s a complete
abdication of our responsibilities,” said Ohio Democrat Sherrod
Brown.

Unions said they would launch an advertising campaign to
pressure members of Congress to oppose fast track, starting with
digital ads but possibly expanding to TV, radio and newspapers.

But businesses said TPA was vital to secure trade deals that
would reduce tariffs for manufacturers and other exporters.

“Manufacturers need TPA and new market-opening trade
agreements now more than ever,” said David Farr, a spokesman at
the National Association of Manufacturers.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jason Szep
and Chizu Nomiyama)