By  on March 18, 2005

WASHINGTON — President Bush nominated Rep. Rob Portman on Thursday to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, saying Portman was “a tireless advocate for America’s manufacturers and entrepreneurs” and a man who has shown “a deep dedication to free and fair trade.”

As U.S. Trade Representative, Portman would face mounting pressure from House members from textile-producing states for imposing quotas on apparel and textile imports from China, which have begun to rise rapidly since the Jan. 1 elimination of quotas by World Trade Organization members. January statistics showed a 47 percent increase in apparel imports from China compared with the same period last year.

In addition, Bush’s announcement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House comes as the administration faces strong opposition to a cornerstone of its free-trade agenda, a pact with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic and amid intense debate over the rising trade deficit. Bush needs Congressional support as he prepares to send CAFTA-DR for legislative approval.

Portman, a Republican from Cincinnati, must be confirmed by the Senate before he can succeed Robert Zoellick, who has been picked to be Condoleeza Rice’s top deputy at the State Department.

“I’ve asked him to take on a bold trade agenda,” which will include efforts to revive a moribund Free Trade Area of the Americas pact as well as stagnant global trade talks, Bush said.

Portman, 49, has a strong free-trade record. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and its subcommittee on trade, and is chairman of the House Republican leadership team. Ohio is a steel-making state, and Portman voted several times in favor of protecting the steel industry, trade experts said.

He has voted for every trade bill Bush has sent through Congress, including pacts with Morocco, Australia and Singapore. Portman supported several trade initiatives, including NAFTA, trade promotion authority for the President, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China and a trade bill establishing a preferential program for the countries of the Caribbean and Africa.

Both domestic textile and importer lobbyists said Portman was a good choice.

“Everyone is surprised,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations. “It was certainly not a bad surprise because he comes from Ohio — a state hit hard by China and manufacturing losses. I’m sure he will bring sensitivity to manufacturing issues and that is important.”However, Johnson added that he has high expectations for Portman: “The China question has to be dealt with…If it is not dealt with, parts of our industry will say this administration does not have its best interest at heart.”

Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, said, “The new USTR will be called upon to do some fairly heavy political lifting in Congress to get the trade agenda through.…From that perspective, Portman was a good choice.”

Peter Allgeier, a deputy to the trade representative, is serving as the nation’s acting top trade negotiator.

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