WASHINGTON The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved White House international economic affairs adviser Michael Froman to be the next U.S. trade representative, sending him into the fray of two huge trade negotiations in Asia and Europe.
Froman, a longtime friend of President Barack Obama, has already played a major role in shaping U.S. trade policy over the past four years from his post in the White House.
Now he is moving from that behind-the-scenes work to a prominent role in Obama's Cabinet, where other big jobs will include managing difficult trade relationships with China and India and breathing life into moribund world trade talks.
"Mike is smart. He knows the issues. Very importantly, he has the trust of the president," former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, a Republican, said on Wednesday in a speech at the Wilson Center, a foreign policy think tank.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, was among the few to vote against Forman, citing what she called a lack of transparency in U.S. trade negotiations, a complaint many civil society groups have made in the past.
"Many people are deeply interested in tracking the trajectory of trade negotiations, but if they do not have reasonable access to see the terms of the agreements under negotiation, then they can't have real input," Warren said.
The Senate action came just days after Obama and leaders of the European Union launched talks on what would be the world's biggest free trade agreement, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership pact.
Froman will now be able to preside over the first round of those negotiations, set for the week of July 8 in Washington.
The United States also is negotiating a free trade agreement with Japan and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact that it hopes to finish by the end of this year.
Froman's legacy will rest on whether he can those two big negotiations to a close and win their approval in Congress.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)