By  on February 15, 2005

WASHINGTON — The race to fill the slot of one of the most prolific trade chiefs in memory is heating up, and his successor will take the helm at a critical time in domestic and international trade policy.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick recently announced he was leaving his post to join Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as her deputy. He is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in the coming months.

Zoellick, a staunch defender of free trade ideology and the catalyst behind the Bush trade agenda, leaves behind a slate of unfinished trade business and one of the most anticipated definitive trade agreement battles on Capitol Hill since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Among the contenders for Zoellick’s position are Grant Aldonas, Under Secretary of international trade at the Commerce Department; Josette Shiner, deputy USTR and lead negotiator on trade issues for East Asia, South Asia and Africa; Gary Edson, former deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs; Rep. Jim Kolbe (R., Ariz.), and Robert M. Kimmitt, current head of global policy at Time Warner Inc. and a former ambassador to Germany.

President Bush laid out an aggressive trade agenda in his first term, launching several trade negotiations and completing four trade deals, three of which were enacted.

In the second term, a new USTR will face a tough Congressional battle over the Central American Free Trade Agreement, oversee many free trade deals in the hopper, deal with many outstanding World Trade Organization cases and be involved with trying to revive the stagnant round of global trade talks, as well as the moribund Free Trade Area of the Americas pact.

The administration is also negotiating bilateral trade agreements with several other countries, including one with four Andean countries, Thailand, Panama and five African nations.

“The administration will have to get a heavyweight because it knows it has extremely difficult fights ahead,” said Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ornstein singled out Shiner as a “strong, inside contender.”

“Josette knows the issues well and she has been indefatigable as deputy for the last four years,” he said.

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