WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in his first policy speech Thursday he will focus on opening markets and rejecting protectionism as well as work to move pending trade agreements forward.
Kirk’s remarks indicated the Obama administration will continue its recent pivot toward a more positive trade stance. In his speech at Georgetown University Law Center, Kirk said he would work to show both businesses and domestic workers the administration will “have their backs” when it comes to trade.
“Now is not the time to turn inward. It’s not the time to be timid. Now is the time to revive global trade and to lay the groundwork for an even more robust, more open trading system for the future,” Kirk said.
He said the administration is committed to achieving a successful outcome to the Doha Round, a position President Obama maintained during his campaign. He indicated USTR would have more concrete news on how the Doha negotiations could move forward in coming weeks.
Since taking office in January, Obama has shifted some of the positions he took during the campaign in regards to trade. During his campaign, Obama said he would like to see the labor and environmental side agreements of the North American Free Trade Agreement incorporated into the larger agreement, a move interpreted to mean he might reopen it. On Monday, Kirk signaled that any efforts by the new administration to change NAFTA were likely to be accomplished without renegotiating the full agreement.
The threat of protectionism has dogged discussions of trade since the worldwide economic crisis started. Increasingly in his public appearances, Kirk has stressed that trade is an important tool to help the U.S. recover. USTR will work to communicate to the American public how trade can be done in a way that benefits U.S. workers, Kirk said.
“A robust, progressive, responsible trade agenda can help this country fight its way out of the economic crisis. Right now, we can cement strong, smart trade policy as a pillar of our long-term economic prosperity,” Kirk said.
Kirk also reiterated that the administration would work to resolve outstanding issues with the three pending trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea.