WASHINGTON White House international economic affairs adviser Mike Froman is considered the top candidate for U.S. Trade Representative, but pressure on President Barack Obama to fill his second term Cabinet with more women and minorities could lead to a different decision.
Two business officials said they expected Froman to get the job, but the White House has not signaled that a decision has been made.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, an African-American, said last year he did not intend to serve a second term, but he has not said when he will leave.
The White House and USTR declined comment on the timing of an announcement for the top U.S. trade post.
Froman, a former Citicorp executive who has known Obama since they worked together on the Harvard Law Review, is viewed by many in the business community as the most likely successor.
Kirk and Froman have collaborated over the past four years, a period marked by stalemate in world trade talks and prolonged U.S. deliberation over three free trade agreements from former President George W. Bush's administration.
Froman played an instrumental role in negotiations that led to congressional approval of the South Korea, Colombia and Panama pacts during Obama's third year in office.
He is well-known in diplomatic circles for his work in the Group of 20 and other international forums.
Earlier this week, Obama was forced to defend his record on appointing women and minorities, after nominating four men for high-power posts: CIA director and the secretaries of State, Treasury and Defense.
He urged critics to wait "until they've seen all my appointments, who's in the White House staff and who's in my Cabinet, before they rush to judgment."
One Democratic strategist said he believed that Froman would be an excellent choice for the job, but was beginning to wonder if Obama might be tempted to appoint a woman.
"I'd heard that the job was Froman's if he wanted it. But maybe it's time for the administration to pull out their 'binders full of women,'" he said, referring to Republican Mitt Romney's memorable phrase from the presidential debates.
The strategist pointed to a number of women who could be candidates for the trade post, including former Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, whose state depends heavily on exports, current Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard and Xerox chief executive Ursula Burns, who is also vice chair of Obama's export council.
Gregoire and Burns, an African-American, have been mentioned for other posts in the administration.
Obama could make good on his promise of diversity by turning to men already in his administration.
Commerce Under Secretary Francisco Sanchez, a Hispanic, recently received high marks in a poll of Washington trade specialists for his contribution to trade policy.
Demetrios Marantis, a Greek-American, is deputy U.S. Trade Representative for Asia and Africa and has close ties to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.
(Reporting By Doug Palmer, editing by Stacey Joyce)