USTR and Commerce Secretary Nominees Bring Varying China Backgrounds


Obama administration nominees Michael Froman (US Trade Representative) and Penny Pritzker (secretary of Commerce) bring with them varying depths of experience on China-related issues. As the deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, Froman has played a key role in overseeing high-level bilateral engagement between the United States and China. During her career in the private sector, Pritzker has helped oversee at least one company—Hyatt Corp., with which she is closely involved—grow its investments and operations in the China market.

Since 2004, Pritzker has acted as a member of the board of directors at Hyatt, which operated 17 hotels in China as of 2010 and announced plans that year to open at least 11 more. In addition to her role on Hyatt’s board, Pritzker is also chair and CEO of PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group, and has served on the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Pritzker has also been politically active on the Obama for America campaign, acting as the campaign’s national finance chair in 2008 and remaining engaged in his campaign in 2012.  

In his current role, Froman has been deeply involved in the range of economic and commercial engagement with China over the past four years. He helped oversee President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States in 2012 as well as President Barack Obama’s visit to China in 2009. He has also taken part in certain meetings within the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in the economic track, as well as with numerous visiting senior Chinese officials to Washington, DC.  More broadly, Froman is responsible for coordinating policy on international trade, investment, energy, climate, and development issues.

In his nomination remarks, Obama said Froman is one of the “world’s foremost experts on our global economy,” who he described as an “extraordinarily tough negotiator.” Of Pritzker, the president said she is “one of our country’s most distinguished business leaders” and highlighted her experience in the private sector.

USCBC has had ongoing engagement with Froman in his current position. USCBC hosted Froman at its 2011 Annual Meeting, and has interacted with Froman in his role as the president’s lead economics advisor.  Upon confirmation, USCBC President John Frisbie said, “It will be important for Pritzker and Froman to work with American business to prioritize the real challenges facing the US-China commercial relationship: addressing market-access restrictions, lowering bilateral investment barriers, improving intellectual property rights protection, and leveling the playing field for American companies that do business with China.”

If confirmed, Froman will take over for former USTR Ron Kirk; Deputy USTR Demetrios Marantis has been serving as acting USTR since Kirk’s departure. The White House on May 7 formally submitted to the Senate Froman’s nomination to the position of US Trade Representative. The nomination has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. A hearing is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

Pritzker is nominated to replace Secretary John Bryson, who departed in June 2012; Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank has served as acting secretary since that time. The White House has not yet sent Pritzker’s nomination to Congress, but recently named Cameron Kerry, who has been general counsel at the Commerce Department, to serve as the new acting secretary when Blank steps down at the end of the month.

Both nominations will be vetted by the relevant Senate committees and voted on by the full Senate.