By  on September 13, 2006

WASHINGTON — Susan Schwab, the Bush administration's chief trade negotiator and a power player at the nexus of politics and international commerce, is as label-conscious as any consumer.

But Schwab isn't searching for trendy or high-status brands when she shops. Her eye is on something else.

"I look at every single label, every single piece of clothing I have purchased within the last 30 years," she said last week during an interview at her office across the street from the White House. "I know exactly where it was made."

Schwab, 51, whom President Bush picked to succeed Rob Portman in the cabinet-level job, on Saturday will mark the end of her first 100 days as U.S. Trade Representative, a frenzied period in which World Trade Organization talks to reduce tariffs fell apart. She is trying to help restart the so-called Doha round, which got under way five years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks with the goal of helping impoverished nations.

Importers want to gain better access to world markets and production capacity through a Doha agreement. But U.S. textile groups tend to be wary of the negotiations because they might generate even more competition.

In broad strokes, the Bush administration's trade agenda is intended to open markets and boost trade so countries will use more U.S. services and buy more goods tagged "Made in the U.S.A.'' In turn, American consumers would have their choice of a wider range of foreign-made products.

Critics of the President's strategy, however, counter that the administration has pursued a trade plan that has helped move more manufacturing jobs abroad because of low labor standards in other countries and unfair competition from subsidized imports that have helped propel the trade deficit to a record $726 billion.

Leading U.S. trade policy is fraught with megachallenges, from domestic and international political squabbling to the record $202 billion trade deficit with China and lingering protectionist sentiment in Congress and among many Americans.

U.S. textile and apparel producers have had some success in winning restraints on imports, notably from China, though employment in the industry over the past decade has plunged to 608,900 from 1.4 million, a drop of 56.5 percent.

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