The Obama administration could secure "fast-track" trade promotion authority from Congress early next year, a leading lawmaker said on Tuesday, handing it the means to secure two big new trade deals.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said lawmakers had made considerable progress in pulling together a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill and expect to pass it within the first few months of 2014.
The Obama administration has said it needs Congress to approve TPA, which would allow any trade deal to move swiftly through Congress. With TPA, lawmakers cannot amend or filibuster trade deals but can still vote for or against them.
The administration needs that fast-track rule to clinch two huge trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.
The administration argues that TPA, which expired in 2007, is useful in coaxing countries to put their best deal on the table without fearing that Congress could reopen and amend them.
Camp's comments came in response to the Tuesday morning conclusion of the TPP ministerial meeting in Singapore.
The ambitious U.S.-led TPP would create a free-trade bloc with 11 other countries including Vietnam, Chile, New Zealand, Japan and Mexico, in an area that makes up about 40 percent of the global economy.
The Singapore meeting ended in no TPP deal, but the Obama administration said significant progress was made and that the nations found common ground on a number of issues during the four-day meeting.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that the 12 countries failed to reach agreement on some thorny issues, including intellectual property, agricultural tariffs and state-owned enterprises. Differences over farm tariffs between the United States and Japan also presented a major roadblock in the negotiations.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman had said previously the United States was aiming to finalize a deal before the end of this year. The negotiations will now move into another year, with the next meeting scheduled for January.
The third round of the TTIP negotiations involving the United States and the EU are expected to take place in mid-December.
"Concluding these negotiations, as well as other trade agreements, will require congressional passage of Trade Promotion Authority legislation," Camp said in a statement. "Given the considerable bipartisan and bicameral progress that has been made on that front, I expect we will be in a position to do so early next year if we have the administration's active participation."
A spokeswoman for Camp said the lawmaker has been working with Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the panel, to put together a TPA bill.
But any legislation could face roadblocks from a number of Republicans and Democrats in the House who say the administration has not adequately consulted them on ongoing trade negotiations and that TPA would strip Congress of its constitutional right to vet trade agreements.
Other lawmakers have said they would not grant TPA unless issues like currency manipulation and intellectual property protection are addressed in any TPP deal. (Editing by Philip Barbara)