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Top US trade official urges Congress to back trade agenda

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The top US trade official urged Congress to back the administration's trade agenda on Tuesday and said an ambitious Pacific trade pact is nearing completion.

[WASHINGTON] The top US trade official urged Congress to back the administration's trade agenda on Tuesday and said an ambitious Pacific trade pact is nearing completion.

In remarks prepared for delivery to key congressional committees, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said the administration looked to lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation allowing a streamlined approval process for trade deals, such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

TPP chief negotiators are meeting in New York this week and some hope the pact can be wrapped up by mid-March.

"The contours of a final agreement are coming into focus, and we have made important progress in the market access negotiations and in addressing a number of twenty-first century issues," Mr Froman said in his testimony, according to excerpts released by his office in advance, pointing to intellectual property, digital trade and labour and environmental rules.

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The White House's plans to seal a trade agreement covering 40 per cent of the world economy and fast-track legislation in 2015 face opposition from some Democrats worried about the impact of trade on jobs and some conservative Republicans opposed to giving President Barack Obama more power.

Trade promotion authority allows the White House to submit trade deals to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, without amendments, in exchange for setting negotiating goals.

Lobbying is intense on both sides of the argument. Business groups and unions are bringing business owners to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers about their experience with trade and urging letter-writing campaigns. Senior administration officials are calling individual lawmakers, aiming to reach out to about 80 Democratic House members.

As part of the public relations blitz, USTR will unveil a new website, including information on how the TPP will benefit Americans, at 9am EST (1400 GMT), before the Senate Committee on Finance hearing starts at 10am EST.

Committee chairman Orrin Hatch said TPA would ensure a high-standard TPP and it would be a "grave mistake" to close the deal before the bill passed.

"Doing so may lead to doubt as to whether the US could have gotten a better agreement, ultimately eroding support for TPP and jeopardizing its prospects for passage," he said in prepared remarks.

In a bid to tackle concerns about jobs, Mr Froman will tell lawmakers US exports support a record 11.3 million jobs and export-related jobs pay up to 18 per cent more. "Our trade agenda is committed to supporting more good jobs, promoting growth, and strengthening America's middle class," he said.

REUTERS

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