WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab is stepping up efforts to cooperate with Congress.
During a news conference with House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) on Friday, Schwab announced the appointment of a new China trade enforcement chief and the formation of an intellectual property office. Both initiatives stem from growing frustration in Congress with the Bush administration’s handling of China’s currency and trade practices, which are widely seen as unfair or illegal.
Blunt, who heads Republican efforts to secure votes on trade deals for the administration, said he welcomed the opportunity to work more closely with top Bush trade officials in crafting accords to get bipartisan support.
“This is an important development and one that our members will particularly welcome,” Blunt said. “One of the very best things we can do as we advance the agenda of trade is to show a vigorous effort to ensure the trade agreements we’ve made are fulfilled. China, specifically, is a large and important trade partner of the United States, but it’s critically important for those exact reasons that China also be a responsible partner.”
Schwab tapped Claire E. Reade, an international trade litigator and senior partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter, to be chief counsel for China trade enforcement, and promoted Victoria A. Espinel, assistant USTR for intellectual property, to head the new “stand-alone” intellectual property office.
“Between these two initiatives, this is another step forward to ensure the United States is active and aggressive in the enforcement of our rights under trade agreements, an area that is of significant interest to the…Congress, to workers and to farmers and ranchers and businesses,” Schwab said.
As for the trade agenda, Blunt said the House would in “all likelihood move the Oman Free Trade Agreement on the House floor in July.” But he didn’t lay out a timetable for two other agreements pending before Congress: the Peru Free Trade Agreement and Permanent Normal Trade Relations legislation for Vietnam, which needs that designation to join the World Trade Organization.
“Trade agreements are best taken one at a time and, frankly, the experience of one of those agreements [in terms of a vote on the House floor] is an important factor in deciding what you are going to do with the next one,” he said.
Asked how important it is to pass PNTR for Vietnam before President Bush travels to Hanoi for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, Blunt said, “I’m not sure it’s an absolutely critical factor, but there are lots of reasons this would be a good agreement for us to have accomplished before the President goes to Vietnam in November.”
Blunt said he discussed outstanding issues relating to the Central American Free Trade Agreement with Schwab on Friday. Questioned on whether the House would move legislation changing rules of origin for pocketing and lining in CAFTA — a commitment former USTR Rob Portman made to textile-state lawmakers to secure votes for the accord — Blunt said: “We talked even this morning about those issues and what we may need to do legislatively, and we are beginning to think about a vehicle to do that. We think it’s very important when we make these commitments to members as we bring trade agreements to the floor that we are absolutely certain in our follow-up on those.”