Froman Said to Be Front-Runner for Trade Representative

President Barack Obama is close to choosing Mike Froman, currently the deputy national security adviser for international economics, as U.S. Trade Representative, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Froman, a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama’s and former executive at Citigroup Inc., is in the final vetting process for the position, according to the people, who asked not to be identified in discussing personnel matters. He would succeed Ron Kirk, who left in March, as the president seeks free-trade accords with Pacific nations and the European Union.

Obama is rounding out his economic team for his second term. Froman’s nomination along with that of Chicago businesswoman and Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary may come as soon as next week, another person familiar with the matter confirmed. The person asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

The trade representative position carries the rank of ambassador and is a member of the president’s cabinet. The nominee is subject to Senate confirmation.

Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, declined to comment. Froman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Trade Pacts

In his State of the Union speech Feb. 12, Obama announced plans to pursue a free-trade agreement with the 27-nation EU that would expand the world’s largest economic relationship.

“Trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs,” Obama said in the address. The president has set a goal of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014.

While the U.S. works to complete trade talks with the EU in two years, administration officials are also negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 nations, which is meant to increase America’s role as a manufacturing center.

“USTR is the bridge between domestic economic priorities and global economic connections and growth,” said Mickey Kantor, who served as trade representative and commerce secretary in President Bill Clinton’s administration.

As the assistant to the president for international economics and a longtime confidant, Froman has been by Obama’s side at every international economic summit. Helping to wrap up trade deals has been part of his White House portfolio.

Revived Negotiations

In December 2010, he revived negotiations on a free-trade agreement with South Korea that was at risk of collapse over disagreements on auto and agriculture imports.

Working with Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, United Auto Workers President Bob King and congressional leaders, Froman worked out the details.

Those negotiations helped Obama win congressional support in 2011 for the accord with South Korea, as well as separate deals with Colombia and Panama. All three were originally negotiated by President George W. Bush’s administration.

Froman holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University and a law degree from Harvard University, where he worked on the law review with Obama. In the Clinton administration, he served as chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

For most of the Bush administration, Froman worked at Citigroup, where he helped recruit Jacob Lew, the current Treasury secretary, to work at the bank.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the nominations of Pritzker and Froman may be made next week.

Commerce Job

Pritzker, whose family built the Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp. chain, has been a longtime Obama ally and served as finance chairman for his 2008 campaign. Her name was circulated for the commerce job shortly after Obama was first elected that year and she issued a statement saying she wasn’t interested in the position.

Pritzker’s finances -- she has a net worth estimated at $1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans -- have complicated the screening process.

Obama has yet to fill the posts of transportation secretary and the head of the Small Business Administration.

He is considering Charlotte, North Carolina, Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, to lead the Transportation Department, people familiar with the matter have said.

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