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Michael Froman Confirmed as USTR

Senate OKs Obama trade representative.

WASHINGTON — Michael Froman, confirmed by the Senate as the next U.S. Trade Representative on Wednesday night, will take the helm of President Obama’s trade agenda at a time when the U.S. is involved in negotiating two mega trade deals — with the Asia Pacific region and, separately, with the European Union.

“Mike has been my closest adviser on a broad range of international economic issues and will continue to play a key role on my economic team,” Obama said.

“He’s trusted and well-respected by our partners around the world, and for the last several years, he’s been a driving force behind our international economic agenda.  In his new position, Mike will stay focused on our primary economic goals — promoting growth, creating jobs and strengthening the middle class.  And he will continue to help open new markets for American businesses, level the playing field for American workers, farmers and ranchers, and fully enforce our trade rights.”

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Froman is leaving his post as deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs at the White House, where he played a key role in Obama’s trade agenda over the past few years, often working alongside former USTR Ron Kirk, who stepped down in February.

He will wade into the middle of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and confront several thorny issues, many involving textiles and apparel, in order to meet an ambitious deadline for wrapping up the negotiations between the U.S. and 11 other countries by the end of the year.

The TPP has wide-ranging implications for the apparel and textile industry, which is divided over rules governing apparel production and duty-free benefits. The U.S. has proposed a yarn-forward rule of origin, supported by the domestic textile industry but opposed by apparel importers, that requires apparel be made of fabric and yarns supplied by the U.S. and other TPP countries to qualify for duty-free benefits.

As chief trade negotiator, Froman will also lead the negotiations over a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement with the European Union, which are set to kick off in Washington the week of July 8.

He could be asked to help resolve a trade dispute involving the fashion industry as those talks begin.

The dispute between the U.S. and EU is putting a damper on the potential benefits of a comprehensive accord for U.S. jeansmakers, in particular. At the end of April, the EU more than tripled the tariff on U.S.-made women’s and girls’ cotton denim jeans to 38 percent, as part of retaliation for a World Trade Organization case the trading bloc won against the U.S. in 2005.