WASHINGTON — President Obama laid out a trade agenda for 2009 that affirmed many of the priorities he outlined while campaigning, including the elimination of unfair trade practices in China and a willingness to review existing and pending free trade agreements.
This story first appeared in the March 3, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The office of the U.S. Trade Representative released its first annual president’s trade policy agenda on Monday after sending it to Congressional leaders on Friday. The confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee for USTR, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, is set for Monday.
The report pointed out the agenda was established “within the context of a financial crisis and rapidly changing economies,” adding “eliminating barriers to trade in the face of serious turmoil in our economy and financial markets will be a challenge.”
Kirk’s confirmation process became a little more complicated on Monday when the Senate Finance Committee announced that Obama’s pick for the top trade chief had underpaid his taxes from 2005 through 2007. The staff estimates that total tax adjustments on Kirk’s amended tax returns for the three-year period will be approximately $9,975. Kirk has agreed to promptly file amended tax returns.
The Obama administration will continue to address U.S. concerns with China, according to the report, which included a focus on addressing trade-distorting industrial policies. The Obama administration inherits a pending case the U.S. filed against China late last year over its “famous brands” program that allegedly uses subsidies to help promote Chinese brands in violation of World Trade Organization rules. The report said the administration will continue to engage in formal and informal talks with China about its policies, but would not shy away from further actions, like WTO proceedings, when necessary.
In keeping with previous statements about the North American Free Trade Agreement, the agenda indicated the administration would like to work with Mexico and Canada on ways to improve it.
Obama inherits a number of pending trade deals from the previous administration. The agenda indicated the new administration will move quickly on the Panama Free Trade Agreement, but that additional work was needed on both the Colombian and South Korean pacts. The administration also indicated it would continue to work toward a successful outcome to the Doha Round global trade talks seeking to eliminate tariffs on a wide range of industrial products.
The ability of the President to negotiate trade agreements before bringing them to Congress for an up or down vote, known as trade promotion authority, is set to expire soon. The USTR report said the White House would only ask Congress to renew that authority after consulting with the House and Senate on the right constraints to place on it. Democratic Congressional leaders have also indicated they would like to overhaul how the so-called “fast-track” authority works.