White House eyes new trade authority, Asia-Pacific trade deal

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President Barack Obama's administration on Friday said it would work with Congress on legislation considered critical for negotiations of U.S. trade agreements as it tries to wrap up talks on an Asia-Pacific free trade pact this year.

"To facilitate the conclusion, approval, and implementation of market-opening negotiating efforts, we will also work with Congress on Trade Promotion Authority," the U.S. Trade Representative's office said in its annual report on the president's trade agenda.

"Such authority will guide current and future negotiations, and will thus support a jobs-focused trade agenda moving forward," the report said.

Trade promotion authority, also known as TPA or "fast track" trade legislation, allow the White House to submit deals to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without any amendments.

It has long been considered essential for negotiating new trade agreements, but the Obama administration has gone four years without pushing for renewal of law, which expired in 2007.

Congress last approved a TPA bill in 2002, following a bitter fight. Republicans, who generally favor free trade, passed the bill over the objections of Democrats, many of whom blame past trade agreements for U.S. job losses.

The Obama administration, even without TPA, has pursued the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between the United States and 10 other countries in Asia-Pacific region.

But it is generally believed other countries will not make hard trade-offs needed to reach a deal with the United States unless they are confident Congress will not change the pact.

USTR, in the annual report on Friday, said negotiators are striving to complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership "this year."

Other top trade goals for 2013 including launching talks with the European Union on a free trade agreement and separate negotiations with the EU and more than a dozen other countries aimed at tearing down barriers to trade in services sectors like banking and telecommunications.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen)



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