By Ernie Bower
Yesterday, President Obama nominated the White House’s deputy national security advisor for international economics Mike Froman to lead the Office of the United States Trade Representative. This was a key signpost signaling that the White House is planning to invest serious political capital in trade in the second Obama Administration.
That is important for Asia, because if it is true, it means the United States will be rounding out its military re-balancing toward Asia with an even more robust focus on expanding markets, trade, and investment.
Specifically, the move is likely to mean that the Obama Administration will send trade promotion authority legislation to the Congress, allowing for an up or down vote on future trade agreements. Additionally, it means the United States will be laser focused and serious about reaching a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and bringing that to the Hill by early 2014 to seek approval ahead of mid-term Congressional elections in the fall.
Ideally, Froman’s arrival will be consistent with other signals showing President Barack Obama is moving in the right direction on explaining why Asia is important to Americans and building a political foundation for trade, generally and engagement in Asia specifically. Telling Americans why engaging Asia is important to their future economic well-being and security is actually smart politics if it focuses on jobs.
That revelation has been made possible in Obama’s second term because the political advisors whose sole roles were to protect the president and plan for his re-election are moving on to develop candidates for 2016. This has changed the chemical balance in the White House and allowed professionals like Froman to utter the word “trade” without admonishment and even have the confidence to put their careers on the line to bring new agreements to fruition.
Ernest Bower is Chair of the Southeast Asia Advisory Board at CSIS.