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Trade and Commerce Nominees Welcomed, Seen Likely to be Confirmed

Monday, May 06, 2013
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

As expected, President Obama filled two senior trade policy positions May 2 by nominating Mike Froman to serve as U.S. trade representative and Penny Pritzker to take the post of commerce secretary. The president called Froman “one of the world’s foremost experts on our global economy” and said he has “won a reputation as being an extraordinarily tough negotiator.” Pritzker, he added, is “one of our country’s most distinguished business leaders” and has “more than 25 years of management experience in industries including real estate, finance and hospitality.”

Key lawmakers and trade associations praised the choice of Froman to lead USTR at a time when the U.S. is looking to conclude a free trade agreement with nearly a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim and launch talks on an even larger pact with the 27-member European Union. Washington is also working on agreements with World Trade Organization members to lower customs barriers, liberalize trade in services and expand the range of information technology products traded duty-free among participating countries. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Froman will be able to “hit the ground running” and Sen. Rob Portman, himself a former USTR, said that after serving as the president’s top advisor for international economic affairs since 2009 Froman “knows the trade portfolio well.” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer praised Froman’s “depth of experience in trade negotiations,” as did National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch, who said the president “could not have made a better choice” for USTR. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard noted that his organization has “some serious reservations about the course that’s been pursued in the past” with respect to trade policy but called Froman “an effective ally in the fight for American jobs” who has “made clear that our voices will be heard.”

The nomination of Pritzker, a billionaire Chicago businesswoman who has served on the president’s job council and economic recovery board, received a positive response as well. Baucus praised her “successful background in the private sector” and Hoyer said her service in the administration has helped “devise strategies for American businesses to grow jobs that move our recovery forward.” Reinsch said she is “a great fit for the position” due to her “extensive business leadership experience.” Pritzker was considered for the Commerce job in Obama’s first term but reportedly withdrew due to scrutiny of the collapse of a bank she had been involved with. She is also a member of the board of the Hyatt hotel chain, which has clashed with labor unions. Both issues could re-emerge during her confirmation hearing.

Several lawmakers used the occasion to make specific points about the administration’s trade policy. In statements supporting Froman’s nomination Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp implied that USTR should remain independent and not be folded into a larger federal department with other trade-related agencies, as the president’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposes. Baucus, Camp, Portman and Senate Finance senior Republican Orrin Hatch said that now that these two posts have been filled (assuming Senate confirmation) the White House should focus on securing a restoration of trade promotion authority to ensure that the agreements now under negotiation have the best chance of being approved.

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