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US businesses urge action on fast-track trade authority

[WASHINGTON] US businesses urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to make a case for fast-track authority on trade agreements before his upcoming trip to Asia, which is seen as an opportunity to push a Pacific trade deal.

Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs for the US Chamber of Commerce, said Obama should send a signal about trade in the time between mid-term US elections on Nov 4 and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in China on Nov 10-11.

A bipartisan bill on so-called trade promotion authority (TPA), which allows lawmakers to set priorities for trade deals in return for a yes-or-no vote, was introduced in Congress in January but has not progressed to a vote. "We think the time is ripe to move on trade and we are looking to signals from the president following the election that he will move on TPA," Brilliant told reporters.

The APEC summit, Obama's first stop on a week-long trip to Asia, will be attended by the leaders of the other 11 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP would cover 40 per cent of the world economy and is the economic arm of the administration's move to engage more with Asia, seeking to set common standards in areas such as labor and intellectual property as well as break down trade barriers.

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Trade experts say the lack of a trade promotion authority is one of the hurdles in finalizing the TPP, since trade partners may fear Congress would later seek to amend the deal.

In an article in Foreign Policy Magazine earlier this month, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said TPA would give "US trading partners the necessary confidence to put their best and final offers on the table." Virginia Democrat Jim Moran, a senior member of the pro-trade New Democrat coalition, said passing the TPA should be a priority in the "lame duck" session of Congress after the election - something many Republicans are also pressing.

His view stands in contrast to other Democrats who want to see the substance of the TPP before giving the White House fast-track authority, and to opponents who do not want fast-track at all.

Trade unions, which are an important Democrat support base and worry about the impact of trade deals on jobs, this week launched a campaign of advertisements in a Capitol Hill metro station, calling on lawmakers to "say no" to fast-track.

Miriam Sapiro, who was deputy US Trade Representative until early this year, said there was a narrow window of opportunity to get Obama, Congress and Asian trading partners on the same page before the presidential election in 2016.

If TPA did not pass this year, the most likely window is in the northern spring of 2015, which would push back agreement on the TPP until this time next year, she said. "I think there is a clear path forward if people want to take it," she told a TPA forum at law firm Arent Fox.


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