DURING a June 6 confirmation hearing for Michael Froman to lead the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Senate Finance Committee members reiterated the need for presidential involvement in renewing trade promotion authority (TPA) as well as the need to improve morale, which has slipped at the agency in recent years.
Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said Froman is the "right person for the job" and has demonstrated a "mastery of trade policy development and implementation."
Froman first had the opportunity to work with USTR as a White House Fellow under President George H.W. Bush, then under President Bill Clinton and, over the past four years, as adviser on international economic affairs for President Barack Obama.
Froman said the goals of the agency are threefold: (1) opening markets around the world to expand export opportunities, (2) leveling the playing field to help people compete and win in the global economy and (3) ensuring that rights and trade laws are fully implemented and enforced.
Baucus said he cannot think of a more challenging time for USTR than now, especially with global-scale challenges and the creative action needed.
Baucus said he hopes to confirm Froman "right away." The committee still needs to approve the nomination before it goes to the full Senate for a vote.
Although Froman was questioned about his investments in a Cayman Islands trust account, there are no substantial red flags standing in the way of his confirmation.
Many senators voiced the need for TPA, which gives the President greater negotiating power in trade efforts and has not been renewed since 2007. Froman said, if confirmed, he would engage with the committee to renew TPA and said he looks forward to crafting a bill "to achieve our shared goals."
Ranking committee member Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) said members of Congress pushed for a vote to renew TPA on the Senate floor 21 months ago. Unfortunately, that effort failed, largely due to a lack of support from Senate Democratic colleagues, he said.
"To me, this shows that presidential engagement on TPA renewal is vital. Without the President's active leadership and public support for TPA, it is hard to see how our current efforts to renew TPA can succeed," Hatch said.
Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), a former head of USTR, asked for a commitment from Froman to be involved and engaged in passing TPA before the end of the year. Froman replied that he would "like to get TPA done as soon as possible."
Portman added that this Administration hasn't striven for deep engagement on trade issues, but it is a "critical time with lots of challenges." He noted that TPA is a tool that can be used to open up more markets, especially for farmers and ranchers.
Baucus said he will continue his efforts to introduce a bipartisan TPA bill this month.
Hatch said since 2009, morale at USTR has dropped considerably. Froman said it will be a high priority of his to improve on that.
He said it has been his experience that staff tend to have a high morale when working on something important and explained that with the trade agenda laid out in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), Geneva and other initiatives, it will give the staff a "sense of mission."
In speaking about the TTIP agreement with Europe, Froman noted that the U.S. is currently conducting a 90-day consultation period and said agriculture and sanitary/phytosanitary standards used as trade barriers need to be addressed. He said some progress has been made, and other confidence-building measures are ongoing.
Froman added that TTIP offers "great potential" to remove tariff barriers that create unnecessary costs and obstacles. Over the past year-and-a-half, many key issues have been identified, but Froman said he has seen a "lot of political will" and, if successful, looks forward to officially launching the talks.