By and  on March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved the nomination of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. Trade Representative Wednesday by a vote of 92 to five. The move came in the midst of a trade dispute with Mexico, which was poised to impose punitive tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. exports today.

Kirk will face significant challenges as Obama’s trade chief, particularly as the rhetoric over protectionism heats up among global trading partners and on Capitol Hill. Mexico prepared to slap tariffs on 90 U.S. export products, including a 15 percent tariff on sunglasses and synthetic staple fiber yarns.

The list of products published by the Mexican government on Wednesday was diverse and included types of carpets and textile floor coverings, wine, produce and personal care products. Duties imposed range primarily between 10 and 20 percent, but in some cases are as high as 45 percent.

The Mexican government has accused the U.S. of violating the 15-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement after President Obama signed into law a spending bill that cut funding for a cross-border trucking program mandated under NAFTA. The U.S. agreed to open its borders to Mexican trucks as part of NAFTA, but a prolonged battle with the Teamsters union led to several court cases and delayed implementation.

The Teamsters raised objections over safety and environmental concerns and the potential impact on U.S. trucking jobs. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday the Obama administration plans to work with Congress and the trade and transportation agencies to restore and restructure the program.

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