It is hard to find anyone outside the administration who gives this strategy much chance of succeeding in the absence of trade-promotion authority. Many observers believe that without fast-track, progress toward the nearly completed Asian trade deal may stall short of the finish line, and the December 2014 target for completing the deal with the EU will be unattainable.
According to Mr. Froman, “The president . . . is fully committed to a robust trade agenda and doing what’s necessary to execute on that.” In the coming months, we’ll find out whether he is right. During Mr. Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008, he was hardly a full-throated free trader. He told the Texas Fair Trade Coalition that he “never supported Nafta.” He told the Iowa Fair Trade Coalition that he wanted to reopen negotiations on the agreement, so alarming our neighbor to the north that Austan Goolsbee, his senior economic adviser, thought it necessary to offer Canadian diplomats back-channel reassurances. And Mr. Obama told the Wisconsin Fair Trade coalition that he would “replace fast-track with a process that includes criteria determining appropriate negotiating partners that includes an analysis of labor and environmental standards as well as the state of civil society in those countries.”
If Mr. Obama is serious about his trade agenda, he will—at a minimum—address the nation on the advantages of ratifying new regional trade agreements, make it clear that he intends to fight for trade-promotion authority, appoint a high-profile point-person to lead that fight in Congress, and personally lobby wavering lawmakers.