WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2015 – Lawmakers are getting ready to put in place a critical piece of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. Bills to grant the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) are expected to be dropped in the House and Senate sometime after Congress returns after this week’s recess.

The legislation, which supporters see as key to wrapping up the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, would allow Congress to have only an up-or-down vote on that and any other coming trade deals. “We’re in the middle of trying to put that together and move that down the pike as soon as we can,” House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said of TPA.

The Senate is expected to act first on TPA, only because that chamber has the time on its calendar for the debate, according to Ryan. However, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, have yet to announce agreement on what should be in the measure.

As for the timing of Senate action Hatch, R-Utah, told Agri-Pulse that “a lot depends on my colleague from Oregon,” meaning Wyden. “I intend to get it passed one way or the other.”

Ryan, who led a congressional delegation to several TPP countries this week, is applauding the administration for its outreach to congressional Democrats, and Ryan, R-Wis., is urging them to hold their fire until they see the TPA bill. “The president, I believe, is very sincere on getting this thing done,” Ryan told reporters. “His team has put together a very strong effort to see this through.” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has made numerous trips to the Hill in recent weeks.

Ryan may be trying to shore up his right flank, too. Ryan, alluding to misgivings among some conservatives about giving the president greater negotiating power, said there are “some misconceptions about what TPA is, and we are in the middle of making sure that we clear up those misconceptions.” He said TPA allows Congress to assert “its authority in the early stages of trade negotiations, telling the administration what a trade bill needs to look like.”

As for a possible Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, Ryan doesn’t expect to deal with that before the fall, and he doesn’t think there will be scheduling problems. By then he expects to have cleared other priorities from his agenda. “A lot of the legislating we have to do is going to get done this summer. TPP is probably a fall issue,” he said.

Japan and Canada remain key obstacles to a final TPP deal – both countries are under heavy pressure to lower barriers to U.S. agricultural exports. But Phil Karsting, the administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, is expressing optimism that Japan will make the necessary concessions. (Canada is widely believed to be waiting for Japan to go first.) “My sense is that Japan has been engaged in meaningful ways and that we are making progress there,” Karsting told members of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives recently in San Diego.

“I think we’re making a good deal of progress with Japan. I hope that Canada begins to lean into these conversations a little bit more.  … It’s quickly getting to the time where you’re in or your out,” Karsting said.


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