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U.S. trade chief avoids committing to address currency in trade pacts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. trade official on Thursday said he shared congressional concerns about foreign currency practices that put U.S. companies at a disadvantage, but stopped short of committing to address the issue in pending trade pacts.

"These issues have been very much at the top of our agenda in engagement with countries of concern," U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told lawmakers, when asked at a congressional hearing whether the United States planned to address currency issues in Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks with Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries.

But he noted that Treasury has taken the lead on currency matters and has been pursuing those concerns in forums outside of trade pacts.

"Whether it's through the G7 in the case of Japan, or the G20, the IMF, elsewhere with regard to China, we've made very clear the importance of exchange rates being based on market determined forces," Froman said.

"So we do see this as a very important issue and we pursue in the way we think is most effective at each juncture," he added.

Both Representative Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, and Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the panel, pressed Froman on whether the United States would raise currency issues in talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.

"I believe currency misalignment is a serious problem," Camp said.

Levin noted that lawmakers are currently working on a "trade promotion authority" (TPA) bill that lays out congressional negotiating objectives for trade deals.

"This issue (currency) needs to be part of the TPA," as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a separate set of negotiations with the European Union known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Levin said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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