Froman optimistic Congress gets TPP done this year

Froman optimistic Congress gets TPP done this year
© Greg Nash

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanOn The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks US trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report MORE was optimistic on Monday that Congress would pass a sweeping Pacific Rim trade agreement this year.

Froman said broad support across the U.S. economy for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — including agriculture, high-tech and manufacturing industries — is bolstering the Obama administration’s efforts to convince lawmakers to approve the 12-nation deal before President Obama leaves office.


“That support is beginning to trickle through to members of Congress,” he said Monday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“I’m spending a lot of my time, when I’m not traveling abroad, up on the Hill talking to members of Congress and the good news is that as they dig into the details and they see what’s in it for their constituents, which is their primary driving force behind their decision-making, they’re seeing the potential, the positive upside and what’s at risk in not getting it done,” he said.

Despite opposition from the presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, a majority of congressional Democrats and most labor unions, Froman said he thinks the TPP has a good chance.

“I think at the end of the day there will be the necessary support to get it done," he said.

That optimism stems from the Obama administration and Congress making headway on a handful of issues that lawmakers have expressed concerns about since the agreement was completed in October.

Froman said the main outstanding hurdle is the length of intellectual property protections for high-tech biologic medicines.

The TPP offers up to eight years, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah) has said he prefers 12 years, which is the U.S. standard.

“We’re working with members of Congress and with the industry to try and find solutions there to reassure them about the issues that they care about without reopening the agreement or renegotiating,” Froman said.

Agreement on another major issue — data localization — also is nearing the finishing line, he said.

"I think we're quite close to reaching a resolution of that issue," Froman said.

Wall Street groups have vowed to withhold their support for the TPP until the cross-border data provision was altered to their satisfaction.

Even though the TPP deal isn't likely to get a vote in Congress until the lame-duck session after the November elections, Froman said the White House and the Cabinet will make a full-court press over the next several months in case a window opens for lawmakers to vote.

The effort is similar last summer's strategy on trade promotion authority legislation.

"We'd like to get it done as quickly as possible," Froman said.

"I think there's a lot of desire to get it done and there's a recognition that if it doesn't get done this year it's unclear when it will get done," he said.

"That has serious costs economically and politically and strategically."

The Obama administration is consulting with congressional leaders and the committees — House Ways and Means and Senate Finance — to find the right time to vote on trade agreement, Froman said earlier Monday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

If the White House and Congress can't reach an agreement by year's end, Froman warned, any attempt by the next presidential administration to open up the deal for more changes would probably kill the agreement. 

"Opening up a Pandora's box of renegotiation will ultimately lead to its unraveling itself," he said at the Council of Foreign Relations.

Separately on CNBC, Froman was asked about Britain's vote on Thursday on whether to remain in the European Union.

“Our view, as the president’s expressed, is we value a strong U.K. in a strong and unified European Union," he said.

"We think they have a strong voice in there that they can play a strong role internationally and we want the EU to be outwardly facing and being able to engage on all sorts of issues whether it’s fighting terrorism, dealing with the global economic situation," he said. 

Froman said the United States will have to see what happens if Britain chooses to exit the EU. 

Opinion polls on the issue predict a close vote.

The U.S. and the EU are still plugging away at negotiations on a separate agreement that would create a more than $4 trillion trading zone.

"So from the U.S. perspective it’s very important we do have a strong EU," he said. 

Froman noted that $3 billion in trade crosses the Atlantic every day in goods and services, it's a $4 trillion investment relationship and trade employs 14 million workers on both sides of the ocean. 

“Obviously, we have close and deep trade and investment relationships with Europe," he said.