Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Thursday pressed U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to reveal when the Biden administration will engage with Congress to reestablish Trade Promotion Authority – legislation key to negotiating new free trade agreement — but they did not get an answer.

TPA has solid support from U.S. agriculture and business groups. The law is on track to expire in July, but Tai stressed during the House Ways and Means Committee hearing that the Biden administration is intent on putting its own mark on the next version of the legislation and it’s unclear how long that will take.

“Traditionally, TPA has been an articulation of the objectives that the United States government and Congress pursue through negotiating an agenda,” Tai said. “Right now … there is an opportunity to look at it through the lens of ‘Build Back Better.’”

Tai’s reference to President Joe Biden’s plan to reform the U.S. economy and infrastructure did not satisfy Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.

The soon-to-expire TPA – legislation that allows the president to ensure a trade deal will be submitted to Capitol Hill for an up-or-down vote without the threat of Congress amending it – is too important to delay, said Brady.

“Our trading partners need to know we’re serious about opening new markets and TPA sends that strong signal,” he said. “I’m eager to begin working on TPA legislation with (House Ways and Means) Chairman Richard Neal and the Senate as well.”

Tai suggested there’s still a lot of work to be done in getting the level of robust support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress that the Biden administration wants.

But the best way to get that support and assure farmers and ranchers that their foreign markets will be expanding is to start the process as soon as possible, Brady argued.

“The first step is to renew the strong partnership between Congress and the Administration on trade through Trade Promotion Authority,” he said. “We must get started quickly so we can negotiate these agreements and sell American (goods) as well as send a strong signal to the rest of the world that America will lead on trade.”

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As a last-ditch effort, Brady asked Tai to just give him a big wink if the USTR intended to get TPA done by the end of the year.

Tai did not wink. Instead, she said, “Let’s do the work and let’s do the thinking."

She also did not reveal the Biden administration’s plans when it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite queries by both Republicans and Democrats.

Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP in 2017, but the group of Pacific Rim countries went on to ratify the pact.

“I think it's one of the great strategic mistakes our country's making in the 21st century that we're on the outside looking in on that comprehensive trade agreement in the Pacific Rim,” Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., told Agri-Pulse in a Washington Week in Review interview. “It is the fastest-growing economic region in the entire globe. It does not make sense that we're outside that agreement.”

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