United States Will Push for Increased Trade Liberalization

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr

Washington (RPRN) 4/27/09-— The Obama administration will work for the successful completion of the long-running Doha round of world trade talks and for congressional passage of three free-trade agreements, says U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

“Now is the time to revive global trade and to lay the groundwork for an even more robust, more open trading system in future decades,” Kirk said in his first major policy speech April 23 at Georgetown University in Washington. “At this moment of economic uncertainty, we should make our best effort to create the strong global trading system of tomorrow.”

The Doha Development Round is the current trade-negotiation round of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which began in November 2001. Its objective is to lower trade barriers around the world and increase trade globally. As of 2008, talks had stalled over a divide on major issues, such as agriculture, industrial tariffs and nontariff barriers, services and trade remedies, according to Ian Fergusson of the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Kirk, who became chief U.S. trade negotiator in March, said one of his primary missions is to see the Doha trade round fulfilled as a major contribution to global growth. But he added that the United States will need a clearer view of what it can expect to receive from the trade talks, and what it is expected to give.

“For America, that means meaningful market access for our farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and service providers,” Kirk said.

While some may doubt the virtue of free trade, Kirk said that more rigorous U.S. trade enforcement will ensure that other nations honor their commitments. “We will use all the tools in USTR’s toolbox to go after those trade barriers,” he said. “Stepping up trade enforcement is about opening up markets, not closing them down.”

U.S. trade exports accounted for a record 13 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of total goods and services, in 2008. In the three years leading up to the current economic crisis, export expansion accounted for 47 percent of overall American GDP growth, Kirk said.

“In the context of this crisis, U.S. exports have fallen 16 percent, while U.S. unemployment has risen,” he said.

Kirk said the benefits from trade are lasting and widespread across the U.S. economy. For example:

• One in six American manufacturing jobs is supported by trade.

• Agricultural exports support nearly a million jobs.

• Services account for eight out of every 10 jobs in the United States, and expanded trade would create more service jobs.

• Fully 97 percent of America’s exporters have fewer than 500 employees.

• Jobs supported by exports of goods pay 13 percent to 18 percent more than the national average.

“A strong case can be made for trade as a creator not just of jobs, but of the better-paying jobs that Americans want and need today,” he said.

Kirk said earlier in the week in a press conference that President Obama believes the North American Free Trade Agreement can be strengthened without renegotiating the trade arrangement with Canada and Mexico, which are the United States’ largest trading partners. Obama had said during his presidential campaign that he wanted improved worker protections and environmental standards addressed in the trade agreement.

And the Obama administration wants Congress to pass bilateral free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, Kirk said.

The full text of Kirk’s remarks as prepared for delivery (PDF, 128 K) is available on the USTR Web site.

What foreign affairs decisions should President Obama consider? Comment on America.gov’s blog.

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