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Update on Obama Administration Trade Priorities

Monday, December 05, 2011
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

In a Nov. 30 speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk laid out five areas of emphasis for the Obama administration’s trade policy. These topics are largely the same as those set forth in the 2011 Trade Policy Agenda the White House released in March, and Kirk’s remarks revealed no significant new initiatives.

The first two issues relate to free trade agreements: implementation of the recently approved FTAs with Korea, Colombia and Panama, and conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. “We think TPP will be a deeply ambitious, groundbreaking trade arrangement, with binding commitments to market access across all sectors,” Kirk said. In addition, “TPP partners are taking on the latest challenges that our companies and workers are facing in the 21st century, many of which have never before been addressed in a trade agreement.” These include regulatory coherence, small and medium-sized businesses, supply chains, competitiveness, business facilitation, wildlife conservation, digital technology and state-owned enterprises. Kirk also indicated that the Obama administration “will discuss additional negotiating authority that may be necessary” to ensure congressional approval of the TPP “at the appropriate time.”

Kirk mentioned trade enforcement but said little that Obama administration trade officials have not said before on this matter. He asserted that the administration “will continue to deploy creative and effective enforcement strategies that hold our trading partners accountable for their commitments,” particularly in the areas of intellectual property rights, science-based agricultural and industrial standards, and transparent rules and regulations. In addition, he said, “our enforcement priorities will be appropriately targeted to address the most commercially significant challenges facing U.S. workers and businesses, as well as emerging issues that have important implications for the future of the rules-based global trading system.”

Enhancing bilateral trade ties will be a focus as well, Kirk said. For example, the High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth created last week with the European Union “will identify and assess options for strengthening the U.S.-EU economic relationship, including ways we can generate more transatlantic trade and investment that supports better jobs for our peoples.” Other administration officials have affirmed that one such option could a bilateral free trade agreement. Another important partner is Russia, and the Obama administration hopes Congress will grant permanent normal trade relations status to Russia “as soon as possible” so U.S. companies can take maximum advantage of Moscow’s impending accession to the WTO. Washington is also interested in “large and growing markets like China, India, and Brazil” and will use “all available resources to identify, address, and remove barriers to trade and investment” with these countries.

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