U.S. lawmakers propose fast-track bill for trade agreements
Trade deals can lower the cost of goods imported into the United States and boost markets for U.S. exports, which Obama said in 2010 he wanted to double by 2015.
Currencies in Focus
The bill would give members of Congress access to negotiating texts of trade agreements and allow them to participate in talks as advisers to the U.S. negotiating team, a change from earlier fast-track laws.
Levin said it did not go far enough to involve lawmakers in trade talks or to prevent currency manipulation by trading partners, adding that the TPP should include a specific currency clause.
U.S. automakers, worried that Japanese competitors may gain an edge in the local market, said earlier all TPP signatories should pledge not to manipulate currencies, on pain of having tariff benefits under the pact suspended.
"If Japan is going to be part of this, it has to open up its market," Levin said.
Including a currency goal in the TPA does not mean a similar provision will be included in all U.S. trade agreements. But Senate aides said U.S. negotiators would be expected to show progress toward meeting the objective.
Ted Truman, a Treasury official under former President Bill Clinton, said it made no sense to burden trade talks with a currency provision. "My concern is that I don't think you can get anything that means anything and it's likely to be a deal-breaker," he said.
Other negotiating objectives set out in the proposal may also raise eyebrows among trading partners. Senate aides said the bill would seek "robust and enforceable" rules on food safety and animal and plant health regulations - sticking points in relations with China and Europe, among others.
The bill would also set a "high standard" for intellectual property protection. Developing countries complain that strong patent protection for drug companies makes medicines too expensive.
National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch said he was confident that TPA would be approved but said he hoped the fight would not be as bitter as in 2001 and 2002, when it passed with a slim margin and only after last-minute concessions.
"What worries me about it is not that they won't get it done. What worries me about it is that it's going to end up being the same kind of nasty, partisan fight it was 13 years ago," he told reporters on Wednesday.
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