The U.S. Senate could vote on a number of trade bills in next few months, including one aimed at prodding China into revaluing its currency, a senior Democratic senator said on Tuesday.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said during a hearing on a free trade agreement with Peru.
Baucus said he expected the Senate to vote on currency legislation, renewal of federal trade adjustment assistance and a third bill to strengthen enforcement of U.S. trade agreements "by the end of this year."
Congress also needs to begin action on free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea in addition to approving the trade pact with Peru, he said.
Many lawmakers believe China's currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent, giving Chinese companies an unfair advantage in international trade.
Both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Banking Committee passed bills in July giving the Bush administration new tools to prod China on currency reform.
The Banking panel bill would make it harder for the U.S. Treasury Department to avoid labeling China a currency manipulator, while the Finance bill would address "currency misalignment" partly by allowing U.S. companies to seek anti-dumping duties against goods from countries with undervalued currencies.
The two panels are expected to somehow meld their bills together, but so far there have been no staff discussions on that, a Senate Republican aide said.
The Bush administration has warned the Senate legislation could trigger a wave of protectionist action around the world.
Several business groups also worry the bills could cause more problems than they would solve. However, many steel companies, textile producers and small and medium-sized manufacturers want even stronger currency legislation than the two Senate panels have proposed.
Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said it could be mid-October before senators focus again on currency legislation because of a number of other issues that need to be completed by the end of this month.
One of those is renewal of trade adjustment assistance for workers who have lost their jobs because of imports or their employer has decided to move a factory overseas. The decades-old program expires on September 30.
Baucus has proposed a major expansion of the trade adjustment assistance, but Grassley said it was more likely Congress would pass a short-term extension of current law to give lawmakers more time to study the issue.