Former Obama administration official: Trump is addressing ‘longstanding’ trade issues

Many of the trade issues on which U.S. President Donald Trump is now focusing have been concerns for numerous White House administrations, according to Michael Froman, who served as U.S. Trade Representative under former President Barack Obama.

Froman, now Mastercard’s vice chairman and president for strategic growth, discussed the current state of global trade with CNBC on Saturday at the annual Singapore Summit. Although he offered some advice for Trump’s team, he emphasized that the current administration is trying to tackle “longstanding trade issues.”

“Different administrations have had different approaches — I was part of another administration that had a somewhat different approach — but certainly some of the underlying concerns about subsidies, about [intellectual property] theft, about forced technology transfer, those are longstanding issues that a number of administrations have been concerned about,” he said.

On Trump’s tactics, Froman was diplomatic: “He certainly has a very distinct approach to trade, and it’s something that he’s had a longstanding view on, long before he ran for president,” he said. “I think the rest of the world is paying attention to that.”

Asked what advice he would offer to those currently engaged in the process of shaping global trade policy, Froman emphasized international collaboration and discussion.

“I think we are most influential vis-a-vis China when we are part of a broad-based coalition of other developed and developing countries, and I think the administration has started to reach out and work with the EU and Japan vis-a-vis China, and I think broadening that out to include other major emerging economies could be helpful as well,” he said.

Michael Froman

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Michael Froman

He recommended that the U.S. engage in a “meaningful dialogue” with China that involves Washington having a “clear idea about what it is we want China to do, and make sure that we can put it forward in a way that the Chinese will see that it’s in their interest as well.”

The former Obama official also noted that his administration brought multiple World Trade Organization cases against China as part of its “carrot and stick approach.”

On the subject of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the now-defunct 12-nation trade agreement he had helped shape, Froman said he was encouraged by the ongoing discussions around its U.S.-lacking successor.

“I think it’s good that the other 11 countries continue to pursue TPP, that there are other countries that want to join it,” he said.

Trump canceled U.S. involvement in the TPP when he entered the White House, but Froman told CNBC he sees the work that went into the original agreement as impacting current U.S. policy.

“A number of the issues that the administration has been engaging Mexico and Canada on in the renegotiating of NAFTA are also issues that we dealt with in TPP,” he said. “So whether or not (U.S. administrations) ever come back to TPP itself, I think a lot of the rules that we pursued there, that we negotiated there, will find their way into the global trading system in one form or another.”

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