WASHINGTON — President Obama’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, generally got good marks from importers and U.S. textile manufacturers following his confirmation hearing late Monday.
Kirk reiterated Obama’s stance that a comprehensive review of pending trade agreements and strong enforcement of existing ones will be the core of the administration’s trade agenda.
“I do not come to this job with what I have called in some of our meetings ‘deal fever,’ ” Kirk said. “I know that you want the referee at the [World Trade Organization] to call a foul when the rules are broken, and I agree. The first order of business for the administration on trade is to ensure strong enforcement of the rules.”
In his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Kirk stressed that three pending free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea would be reviewed. He indicated the Panama trade pact was the closest to moving, but would not commit to a timetable to advance any of the agreements in the next year. Kirk also said the South Korea free trade agreement needed to be reworked or the Obama administration would back away.
Kirk indicated he would use a broad strategy to engage with China, including WTO channels and diplomatic resources. The Senate Finance Committee plans to vote on Kirk’s nomination on Thursday.
Apparel and textile industry response to Kirk’s testimony was mixed.
“From our perspective, it’s good news that trade enforcement comes first,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations. “What we’ll be looking for is strong actions against China.”
Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, said many of her member companies are concerned about how the Obama administration will handle the free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, both suppliers of apparel. She said she was confident the administration would push the agreements despite Kirk’s warnings.
“I believe that Mayor Ron Kirk is well suited to serve as a pro-growth, pro-trade voice in President Obama’s administration,” said Kevin Burke, president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
Striking a less positive note, Auggie Tantillo, president of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said despite some positives regarding enforcement and a focus on a pragmatic approach to trade, Kirk’s willingness to potentially move ahead with the pending free trade agreements was troubling for the domestic industry.
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