U.S. fast-track trade deal unlikely until next month

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Bipartisan legislation to streamline the passage of trade deals through the U.S. Congress will probably not be done until next month, the Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate finance committee said on Monday.

Senator Orrin Hatch said he was prepared to work on a further concession to bring the panel’s top Democrat, Ron Wyden, on board, but there was a limit to how far he could compromise on a bill seen as key to finalizing a Pacific trade pact.

“We will probably have to wait until we get back, but if I can get an agreement before, I will do it,” Hatch told reporters. Congress goes on a two-week recess at the end of the week.

“I will do my very best to come up with something between now and when we get back, but if he doesn’t do it, that would be very unfortunate, but we are going to have to go ahead,” Hatch said.

Talks on the bill, which would restrict Congress to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals in exchange for setting negotiating objectives, have been held up over Wyden’s calls for more transparency and greater congressional involvement, which may help muster support among Democrats wary of trade deals.

Hatch has said he will not consider a mechanism that would allow lawmakers to strip a bill of its fast-track status if it were deemed not to fulfill negotiating objectives adequately.

The impasse is frustrating trading partners. New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser, who visited Washington last week, said Congress had to pass the legislation before negotiators could complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential pact that also includes Canada. Many had hoped negotiations could wrap up early this year.

Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said it would be difficult to reach a U.S.-Japan agreement, a key stepping stone to the wider deal, without trade promotion authority legislation.

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