WASHINGTON President Barack Obama's nominee to be U.S. trade representative on Thursday pledged to work with leaders of the Senate Finance Committee to craft major trade legislation needed by the White House to win approval of trade deals.
"If confirmed, I will engage with you to renew Trade Promotion Authority. TPA is a critical tool. I look forward to working with you to craft a bill that achieves our shared goals," Mike Froman, currently the White House international economic affairs adviser, said at his confirmation hearing.
Froman, a long-time friend of Obama, won the endorsement of the panel's top Republican, Senator Orrin Hatch, at the hearing and appeared headed for easy Senate approval.
"I intend to support you," Hatch said, although he did chide Froman over an account he holds in an offshore tax haven in the Cayman Islands.
Hatch said that investment was at odds with Obama's "unequivocal condemnation of these types of activities during the campaign."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said he hoped for quick action on Froman's nomination.
"Mike Froman is the right person for this job," Baucus said.
Trade promotion authority, also known as "fast track" trade legislation, allows the White House to submit trade deals to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without any amendments. It was last passed by Congress in 2002 and expired in 2007.
The White House is already negotiating one of biggest trade deals in history with 11 other countries, including Japan, in the Asia Pacific region and plans to start talks in July on an another huge deal.
Trade promotion authority would also allow lawmakers to set negotiating objectives for those two agreements, although the White House is pushing to finish talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership talks by the end of the year.
Obama did not ask for renewal of TPA during his first four years in office. Froman, under questioning from Baucus, clarified that Obama was asking for renewal now.
Baucus said he hoped to win congressional approval of a bill combining trade promotion authority with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) in coming months.
TAA provides retraining assistance for workers that have lost jobs because of imports or factories moving overseas.
"With so many trade initiatives moving to completion and getting off the ground, we need TPA now to guide and support USTR. And we need TAA to ensure that our workforce remains ready to compete with anyone, anywhere in the world," Baucus said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen)