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US CEO group wants Pacific trade deal but could work with Trump

[WASHINGTON] The captains of corporate America want congressional approval for a new Pacific trade deal this year, but the head of their main lobbying group said on Wednesday they could find a way to be comfortable with tariff-promoter Donald Trump if the Republican front-runner became president.

The Business Roundtable, a lobby group that represents major corporate chief executive officers, has made the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a top priority for this year and believes the trade deal could have enough bipartisan support in Congress to win approval, according to Caterpillar Inc Chief Executive Doug Oberhelman, the group's new chairman.

"There's a core group, and some in leadership, that if we can get the components right would like to see this done, and certainly the administration will be behind it," Mr Oberhelman told reporters at a briefing. "We're very hopeful," he added.

The Roundtable, a lobbying group for corporate CEOs, is also pushing for comprehensive tax reform this year as an antidote to inversion deals that have allowed US companies to establish headquarters overseas.

Winning approval for the trade pact known as TPP is a top priority for President Barack Obama. The 12-nation deal would liberalise trade from Chile to Japan, representing 40 per cent of the world economy.

But it faces stiff opposition from Democrats, and Republicans have indicated that they are in no hurry to bring the deal to a vote because of concern over specific provisions.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has promised tariffs on some imported goods. "We're 5 per cent of the world population. Ninety-five per cent of our potential customers are elsewhere. We've got to learn and figure out how to deal with that. I think putting a wall up is very dangerous," Mr Oberhelman said of tariffs.

Asked how the group would respond if Mr Trump's White House bid succeeds, he answered: "We will find a way to be comfortable with whoever's the president."

On tax reform, Mr Oberhelman rejected the piecemeal approach undertaken by Republicans in the House of Representatives. "I don't think you can take them piecemeal and just check them off one at a time. It's too big and too comprehensive of an issue," he said.

The group instead wants "a global all-encompassing multi-year tax reform bill" that would lower rates, simplify rules and address off-shore earnings including inversions. "The inversion situation ought to be a catalyst right now,"he said. "We've got a tax system that's really in need of reform."