Froman makes case for WH trade agenda

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U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Tuesday accelerated the administration’s campaign to convince wary Democrats to back President Obama’s trade agenda.

In a speech titled, “A values-driven trade policy” delivered at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, Froman sought to lay out the case for why unions, environmental groups and Democrats should back Obama’s call for trade promotion authority, as well as two major trade deals the White House is negotiating.

Froman cast Obama’s policies as different from those of former Presidents George W. Bush or Clinton, who presided over the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that opponents — including many Democrats — say moved thousands of U.S. jobs overseas.

“Our trade policy has evolved substantially from what it was 20 years ago, but many of the criticisms have not,” Froman said. “Some of the criticisms I hear of our agenda describe the state of the trade policy in 1994, not 2014. They are criticisms of a trade policy this president has explicitly rejected.”

The White House is pressing Congress to approve a new trade promotion authority bill, also known as fast-track, that would make it easier to win approval of trade deals. A central part of the authority would keep Congress from amending trade agreements in exchange for the administration pursuing certain negotiating objectives.

Winning the authority would make it easier for the U.S. to conclude negotiations on a trade deal with the European Union, and another agreement with several countries in Asia and South America that is important to the administration’s pivot to Asia.

Trade is an issue that splits both parties, but the administration’s biggest problem in moving its trade agenda has been coming from Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have both been cool to a trade promotion authority bill offered by former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who was confirmed this month as Obama’s ambassador to China.

Froman on Tuesday sought to take on critics from the left.

He argued that the U.S. has one of the most open economies in the world, and pursuing trade deals would benefit U.S. workers by creating jobs.

Froman also said the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Asian and South American countries would move toward the president’s campaign pledge to rework NAFTA by ramping up standards on labor and the environment.

Obama will head to Mexico on Wednesday to meet with Mexican and Canadian leaders for a one-day summit on economic issues. 

Froman said the United States must stake out a global leadership position, and faces a choice of raising standards or staying on the sidelines while other countries write the rules. 

“They are busy negotiating their own deals, trying to gain preferential market access to countries, setting rules of the road that do not reflect our values,” he said of U.S. trading partners. “The pace of that globalization and technological change is not slowing down, and our trade agreements need to take on that challenge.”

Under Obama, Froman said U.S. exports have increased by 50 percent, growing four times faster than the economy as a whole and adding $700 billion to economic output.

“But some focus on trade agreements, asserting that they are responsible for our economic challenges,” he said. “When you get beyond the rhetoric and look at the facts, however, that assertion just doesn’t hold up.”

A tweet Tuesday from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a vocal opponent of trade expansion, highlighted the challenge facing Froman and the White House. Sanders said on Twitter the TPP would “sanctify the right of corporations to make profits at the expense of hard working Americans.”

In defending fast-track, Froman argued approval of the trade promotion authority would give a seat at the negotiating table to Congress.

He noted that the first version of the legislation was approved by a Democratic Congress serving with then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and suggested trade negotiations would continue regardless of whether there is a fast-track law, but approving a new law would give Congress more say.

“We are eager for Congress to step forward and update its role in trade negotiations, to make clear which Members or committees should be involved, how those consultations should be conducted and what rules of transparency should apply.”

 “Congress sets the terms. Congress sets the timeline. Congress has the final say.”