Congress Said Near Deal on Fast-Track Trade Legislation

House and Senate lawmakers are close to agreeing on a bill that would give President Barack Obama authority to negotiate trade agreements free of congressional amendments, according to two people familiar with the talks.

Congressional negotiators, who have worked for months on legislation to renew what’s known as fast-track authority for the president, may introduce a bill within days, the people said. It almost certainly wouldn’t come up for a vote before year’s end, given the time left on the calendar, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks.

The Obama administration is pressing for fast-track authority -- formally known as trade-promotion authority -- as it attempts to hammer out a Pacific-region trade agreement with 11 other nations in the coming days. Trade ministers from nations drafting the Trans-Pacific Partnership will meet in Singapore from Dec. 7-9 to try to put the finishing touches on the pact before the end of the year.

Trade-promotion authority, which expired in 2007, can help the administration reach an agreement because it provides assurances to trading partners that an accord won’t be altered by Congress. Democratic and Republican lawmakers in recent weeks have bristled at the idea of renewal, saying they want more say in the Pacific accord.

The U.S. and the 28-nation European Union, which already have the world’s largest bilateral economic relationship, have also begun talks on a separate trade pact.

Deal Uncertain

The people close to congressional negotiations on the fast-track bill said that a deal isn’t assured and that there is still work to be done. Progress in the talks was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

Negotiations on the terms of a measure renewing fast-track authority began months ago, led by the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and backer of fast-track authority, said last month that while he hopes to get a deal before his panel by year’s end, he isn’t sure the full Senate would act before 2014 begins.

Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican, said it’s unlikely that trade-promotion authority, or any other international trade legislation, would move through Congress before the end of the year.

“We’re still working, we’re close, but to get a bill, that’s an extra step,” Nunes, who’s chairman of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, said in a Dec. 4 interview.

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