Froman Says Debates in Congress Won’t Slow Trade Talks

Froman Says Debates in Congress Won’t Slow Trade Talks

The Obama administration’s ambitious free trade agenda may be in peril on Capitol Hill, but U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says he is moving forward on major international agreements without fast-track authority.

Froman said at a congressional hearing Thursday that lack of what is formally called Trade Promotion Authority won’t slow work on an agenda that includes the 12-nation Transpacific Partnership and a separate deal with Europe.

“Ultimately we’d like to get a TPA bill that’s got as broad bipartisan support as possible,” Froman told the House Ways and Means Committee. “We look forward to working with you on that. But in parallel we’re going to continue to work to try and close TPP as an ambitious, high-standard, comprehensive agreement.”

He said although major issues on the Pacific agreement remain outstanding — including market access hurdles with Japan over autos and agricultural goods — he believed the deal will be finalized this year. “Our negotiators are working around the clock,” Froman said.

Some of his toughest negotiations, however, are with lawmakers, especially Democrats who oppose fast-track and have said the TPP deal is cloaked in too much secrecy and will hurt workers and wages in America.

“Done right, trade policy creates opportunities for American workers, farmers and ranchers; manufacturers and service providers; innovators, creators, investors and businesses,” Froman said. “Our congressional partners preview our proposals and give us critical feedback every step of the way. We also ensure that any member of Congress can review the negotiating text and has the opportunity to receive detailed briefings by our negotiators.”

But Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan, who is a chief sponsor of fast-track legislation (HR 3830), said President Barack Obama and his administration must do more to sell skeptical lawmakers on fast-track.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Camp said.

Privately, however, some Republican proponents of free trade have cautioned the administration about putting the president out front on the issue because it could peel away GOP support. Several conservative Republicans who may be partial to trade deals do not want to hand the president a victory.

Still, Froman noted Obama mentioned fast-track in his State of the Union address this year and that numerous administration officials including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and cabinet secretaries have worked to build support on Capitol Hill for TPP, TPA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.