US lawmakers say agreement on trade promotion authority near

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

TOKYO (AP) — A bipartisan congressional agreement on granting President Barack Obama trade promotion authority for a pan-Pacific trade deal is likely this spring, U.S. lawmakers visiting Japan said Thursday.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and seven other lawmakers were meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other top Japanese officials, promoting the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Ryan and the other lawmakers said they believed the TPP was crucial for both economies and that there was growing support for giving the president the authority to reach an agreement.

"We see a good team building on this issue. We're working with Democrats right now in drafting TPA legislation," Ryan said.

Progress toward a final TPP agreement among the dozen countries involved in the trade talks hinges partly on settling disputes between the U.S. and Japan on trade in farm products and autos that have obliged negotiators to keep pushing deadlines back.

Trade promotion authority would set guidelines but let the White House send Congress a trade proposal to adopt or reject, but not amend. Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has had some form of enhanced trade-dealing powers, but Obama still lacks it.

Without that guarantee, it is harder for the other countries involved in the talks to make tough political decisions.

Despite opposition to both the TPP initiative and TPA among labor groups and many Democrats, Ryan said he believes an agreement is possible.

"We are the committee that writes TPA. We are in the closing stages of finalizing the legislation. We anticipate passing this legislation this spring," Ryan said.

Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, the sole Democrat in Ryan's delegation and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he believed the TPA and TPP legislation would "pass in a bipartisan way."

"Geopolitically, it is important for others to see how we work together," Meeks said.

Some other leading Democrats have said they don't expect TPP to win congressional approval unless it addresses the issue of currency manipulation — policies that push a country's currency value lower to make its exports more attractive in overseas markets.

Aggressive monetary stimulus has pushed the Japanese yen sharply lower over the past few years, prompting complaints.

Ryan said he expected the issue to be dealt with separately.

"Currency manipulation is a real concern," he said. "Working on TPA legislation we want to be sure we do not add something that makes it more difficult to achieve consensus."

The TPP is a key part of Obama's efforts to boost American exports to the growing economies of Asia and assert U.S. influence in the region in the face of China's ascendancy. Its potential for approval has grown more likely now that Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate.

Together, the countries seeking a TPP agreement account for about 40 percent of global GDP, a large share of that in Japan and the U.S.

Officials on both sides say they have made progress and are close to closing difficult gaps on market access such as American exports of dairy, pork and beef to Japan and Japanese exports of pickup trucks to the U.S.

Critics of TPP argue it could leave U.S. workers vulnerable to competition from countries with lower labor costs. Some groups say the plan could be used to censor the Internet, undermine environmental protections and grant more power to corporations.