Saturday, December 24, 2011


Washington Trade Daily is not in the habit of putting words in the mouths of others. But it happened last week in an interview with US Trade Representative Ron Kirk – who had just returned to Washington from the World Trade Organization eighth ministerial conference.

One paragraph in the middle of the otherwise correct story said that Mr. Kirk told WTD the advanced developing countries in Geneva repeatedly told him that they strongly object to US demands they – including India, China and Brazil – deliver substantial commitments commensurate with their current status in global trade. The story went on to say that the BRICS countries conveyed to the United States that they would deliver in agricultural and industrial goods trade along with the terms of the Doha mandate.

Mr. Kirk simply did not say that, nor indicated in any way that he was told that by other countries.

WTD sincerely regrets the stupid error and apologies to the USTR, Assistant US Trade Representative for Public and Media Affairs Carol Guthrie, who took pains to arrange the interview, staff at USTR in Washington and others in Geneva as well as the readers.

WTD has no excuse for such an error and pledges it will not happen again.

Jim Berger


Thursday, December 8, 2011


It’s just a couple of weeks before the end of the year, so it is time to make some predictions for 2012 – A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION YEAR IN THE UNITED STATES.

1) The Obama Administration will continue to take a one-thing-at-a-time approach to trade policymaking.

2) And that single issue will be trying to conclude negotiations next year on a nine-way – perhaps twelve – TransPacific Partnership free trade agreement with the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei – and perhaps Japan, Canada and Mexico thrown in for good measure. That goal will not be reached.

US Trade Representative Kirk has called for a conclusion to the now two-year-old negotiations, but the best prospects seem to be sometime in 2013 – during the second term of an Obama Administration or the first of a pro-trade Republican President.

Mr. Kirk said recently – and very late in the process – said he intends to ask Congress for special Presidential Trade Promotion Authority to cover changes in US law that will include "fast track" consideration – limited debate time and no-amendments – by Congress for TPP. He apparently has seen no urgency to gain the President negotiating authority until now. One factor now that stands in the way of considering TPA next year is the certain hesitancy of a Republican-run House to give a Democratic President multi-year authority to conduct trade negotiations. The likely response will be to wait and see who wins next November’s election.


On the moribund Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations in Geneva, Mr. Kirk has stated – in numerous ways – that he wants the negotiations to start over again. Next year? Probably not. NEGOTIATIONS WILL PROBABLY CONTINUE IN A STALL THROUGHOUT NEXT YEAR. There has been no leadership in the talks from Washington for at least five years; there is no reason to think that now Washington will step forward, especially in an election year where the mention of trade represents a sting of death for any candidate.

(It will take a lot of skill on the part of World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy to keep the train on the track – or the bicycle upright – for another year even though it is not moving. But we predict that he is up to the task.)

The good news – and another prediction – is that Doha will not die and will resurrect in 2013.

(As an aside, shortly after Mr. Obama’s election in 2008, one astute trade negotiator in Geneva – not an American – commented to WTD that Doha will go into a "deep freeze" until the second term of Mr. Obama’s Administration.)

Lower-case predictions –

Mention of possible regional free trade agreements with subSaharan African countries and the newly reformed nations in North Africa and the Middle East will similarly wait until a second term for any serious consideration.

The only other "sure-thing" prediction is that USTR Kirk will not be around for the second term – likely to escape by mid-2012. A $200,000 annual salary simply is not going to match the tuition requirements for two daughters in "Ivy League" New York City universities. The only thing that can match that challenge is a return for Mr. Kirk to a well padded attorney’s job in a big law firm.

Any response? Just add them below.

Jim Berger

Friday, December 2, 2011

Expeditious or Expedient

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk had something interesting to say Wednesday when he presented remarks to the US Chamber of Commerce on the "next steps" for US trade policy.

(p.s. – for those following this blog carefully, the problems between WTD and the US Chamber have been rectified through the intervention of a third party.)

In the speech, the USTR almost oft-handedly commented that his office is in the process of getting special Presidential Trade Promotion authority so it can bring back to Congress a TransPacific Partnership nine-way free trade agreement – with as little Congressional hassle as possible. He said, "obviously, we’re going to have to have it," adding that he wants TPA renewed as expeditiously as possible.

Well, that is a major shift in US trade policy – when compared to the two years expended so Mr. Kirk could travel around the country to discover how the American public – ordinary citizens, businesses and labor – felt about trade. Mr. Kirk says he used that time-consuming process to improve on the then-pending three free trade agreements negotiated with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, initially negotiated and signed by the previous Bush Administration.

As predicted by Mr. Kirk, Congress approved all three revamped FTAs by overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate. The fact is those FTAs would have been approved by the same margins if they were submitted earlier in the progress. In the interim 24 months, the Administration essentially "spun its wheels" on trade, getting nowhere on building a future US trade agenda.

Why the sudden change in policy? In fact, Mr. Kirk has things backwards. Aside from the "fast track" procedure – which puts time restraints on Congressional consideration of trade agreements and an rule against any amendments – TPA was really designed to include Congress much more in the beginning, middle and end of reaching trade agreements than it had been in the past. Theoretically, the White House and Congress are supposed to sit down and outline some general principles that are meant to guide the process of those negotiations.

The US Constitution puts war-making powers, foreign policy and interstate and foreign trade squarely within the purview of Congress. In all three, Congress has wisely chosen to delegate that authority to the Executive Branch, but not without strings attached.

TPA should have been negotiated well before the United States embarked on the TPP exercise more than two years ago, instead of waiting until the talks enter their final phase in 2012. As a result USTR might be in for a big surprise when it does enter those talks with Congress.

Mr. Kirk should be careful in his use of words. He must not confuse "expeditious" – which means "quick and efficient" – with "expedient" – which means "advisable, or on practical rather than moral grounds."

Having a review of Trade Promotion Authority in open committee hearings would be nice.

Washington Trade Daily's Friday Afternoon Podcast for December 2, 2011

WTD's Friday Afternoon Podcast for December 2, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

WTD Friday Afternoon Postcast November 18, 2011


Chief domestic economic adviser to the President, Gene Sperling, showed up briefly on Wednesday morning for a high-level meeting of the full President’s Export Council to bemoan the fact that the national economy will have to grow a lot more than the two to 2.2 percent rate currently projected by economists. That level of growth won’t even begin to affect the still-too-high unemployment rate.

Just afterwards new Commerce Secretary John Bryson said that US exports are providing a boost to the overall economy, but they also are far too low.

Mr. Sperling had another complaint. While he said that the recent easy passage by Congress of the three long-pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia held out some hope for bipartisanship within Congress and with the White House, the near-term future did not. He remarked that White House staff get up every morning thinking how they can move forward with the nation’s business without the "help" of Congress. At 9:15 am, Mr. Sperling looked, indeed, like he started worrying very early that morning.

Avoiding Congress on the trade policy front won’t work. It’s like avoiding homework and still expecting to pass.

1. House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif) and free-trade Democrat Gregory Meeks (NY) will introduce a sense of Congress resolution today expressing the sense of the House that the US Administration should embark on free trade negotiations with Egypt – as a show of support for the fragile new "Arab Spring" government and the Egyptian people.

Mr. Dreier should know that the Obama Administration has no intention of moving toward freer trade with Egypt – or any other country in the region. WTD has reported that fact many times since the "Arab Spring", even as recently as this week, when US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the President’s Export Council that an FTA is not in the cards for Egypt anytime soon.

(The Ambassador’s remark came in response to a PEC letter to the President urging closer economic cooperation with the Middle East – that should lead to FTAs. The letter noted that US exports to the region were advancing two and a half times faster than any other region in the world even before the revolutions.)

2. The recent activity at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Honolulu kicked up interest in nearly two-year-old negotiations for a TransPacific Partnership free trade agreement. It even sparked explicit – and public – interest by Japan, Canada and Mexico.

But as far as I know, there have been no hearings in Congress since the start of the talks. Whether Congress will go along in approving the necessary changes in US law will depend on how well the Administration keeps Congress informed.

So far, a "C" grade at best.

3. Another important Congressional matter involves the revocation of the Cold-War-era Jackson-Vanik emigration trade act. Under WTO rules, members have to provide permanent MFN treatment to other nations when they formally join the world trade body. That means Congress will have either to take Russia off the Jackson-Vanik list – of which it is the only country that remains – or repeal Jackson-Vanik altogether.

Not doing so, the United States will have to announce an embarrassing "non-application" of MFN for Russia during next month’s very public WTO ministerial conference. Doing so, Mr. Kirk said earlier this week to the President’s Export Council, would be "horrible."

Congress is ready to do either in a snap, but the White House has to ask. Not done so far.

4. Senior US trade officials, including Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis, has told members of Congress in open committee sessions that the lack of Trade Promotion Authority has, so far, been no obstacle to its trade aims. He did say, however, that TPA – whose fast-track provision forbids Congressional amendments to final implementing legislation and sets a specific period for Congressional consideration of trade agreement implementation legislation – would be useful when the time comes to approve a "21st Century" TransPacific Partnership trade agreement.

The Obama Administration has set a rough end-of-2012 deadline for concluding those negotiations.

It would be wise for the Administration to update Congress – beyond a few senior trade members and staff – on the progress of the negotiations. Otherwise it might run into some always unexpected trouble.

So rather than getting up early and worrying about what you and your staff can do off of Capitol Hill, maybe you better stay up later and do your homework Mr. Sperling.

Jim Berger

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Korean Reaction to KorUS

We know now why Korean Embassy officials asked us not to cover Korea's efforts to get the US-Korea FTA approved.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An Unceremonial Exit

Strange things happen when I attend a social event where US Trade Representative Ron Kirk also shows up.

The latest was yesterday afternoon at the US Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the signing of the three free agreements – with South Korea, Panama and Colombia – earlier in the day at the White House. That event, by the way, was closed to the press but open to a handful of big business executives and labor leaders. (WTD later learned business and labor stood separately and had separate pictures taken with the President during the prolonged signing ceremony.)

WTD – both of us – were formally invited by the Chamber’s Latin American Trade Coalition; a Chamber intern checked off my name on the acceptance sheet on the way in – (Mary did not go; she had to take care of our sick dog) and I went in with two long-time trade acquaintances.

After a while of chit-chat, mostly with trade contacts I have made over the past 30 years, USTR Kirk arrived. I said hello and added some more minor chit-chat, asking when whether he read our Facebook page of Blog. He said no. What a relief!

No news, but Mr. Kirk, along with the South Korean Ambassador Han, gave brief remarks as did three of the pacts’ private-sector backers who had worked on getting the FTA’s first through a drawn-out process at the White House and then through a willing and speedy Congress.

Just some self-congratulations – which I can do in this blog, but not in the newsletter. Ambassador Han thanked us for our objective reporting on the process, which he said helped move things forward in Washington. In his remarks he promised the crowd that his government will approve the controversial FTA by January 1.

Another Korean embassy official remarked that our latest stories on Korea – involving the beef controversy – were looked at very carefully in his country. I didn’t press him, only saying when we get it wrong let us know.

Just after the 15-minute remarks I was approached by someone – who did not identify himself and I suspected was a staffer of the Chamber – saying he event was closed to the press and I had to leave. I explained that I was invited by Latin American Coalition and formally signed in. Therefore, I did not want to leave, but would do so after another Panama Jack.

(Here’s an aside – the Distilled Council of America paid for the bar which was serving Bogota Blossom, Panama Jack and Joyful KORUS. Email us for the recipes).

When the Chamber person – who I later learned was the chief press flak there, somebody called P J – denied me that final request I lost my temper and started cussing like a sailor and walked away.

I walked into Mr. Kirk and told him I was being thrown out, to which he showed no surprise, only to say, "You can’t have it both ways. I didn’t say anything anyway." (Email us for a transcript of his brief remarks.) What does that mean?

A connection with Mr. Kirk between a copasetic entry and an abrupt and forced exist? – PROBABLY.

I also was told by this P J guy that WTD has been removed from all statements, press releases from the Chamber and would not be allowed in the building again. THAT MAKES ME WEEP.

As I was slowly making my way to the door I also ran into a Chamber security guard sent to do her gruesome duty. I exchanged pleasantries and asked her to call me a cab. She wouldn’t and I walked to the subway.

As I said strange things happen at these events when Mr. Kirk shows up.

(Another aside – ABC’s White House correspondent Jack Tapper did an interesting blog about his take – and the official White House line – on why the high-profile signing ceremony and Rose Garden reception originally planned were canceled )

Friday, September 30, 2011

WTD's Friday Afternoon podcast for September 30, 2011

Dumb Decisions -- On the Middle East

Decisions made by this Administration are getting weirder and weirder.

I’ve been reporting on international trade policy in Washington for some 30 years – and have heard a lot of things that were hard to fathom. But during the past two weeks I’ve heard – and reported – some very difficult things to believe about the Middle East.

Just yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State for the Asia and Pacific Kurt Campbell told a big meeting of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council that the American people are demanding "some nation-building at home" – saying the Obama Administration will start to turn its attention domestically.

Mr. Campbell essentially said the Administration will respond to perceived public and budget-cutting demands to start withdrawing from the Middle East – including its economic programs. But, he quickly added, Washington will increase its attention to the Asia-Pacific region where nearly half world trade originates. He – and other State Department trade officials – spelled out a long list of initiatives in which the United States will be "pro-active."

Asked by WTD if his remarks stem from his portfolio since he doesn’t get paid for talking about the Middle East, Assistant Secretary Campbell suggested that might be a part of the reason for the remarks, but assured WTD that the decision to remove itself from the Middle East has been made.

The remarks came less than week after a line-up of high-level Middle East finance officials gathered in Washington for the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – several of whom were explicit about the United States paying more economic attention to their region in the aftermath of the social and political revolutions.

Two ministers contacted by WTD indicated that they just about pleaded with the United States to begin – or at least start talking about – possible free trade arrangements. Tunisia Finance Minister Jalloul Ayed explained the reason for the upheaval in his country. Tunisia led the string of revolutions – and the demise of old-time autocratic rulers in the region. Demonstrators shouted about democracy, but the reason for their disgruntlement was high unemployment and little hope for advancement by the large populations of young educated citizens without jobs.

Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi – who spoke a few days earlier at the US Chamber of Commerce – said the same.

Economic activity – including trade – is needed now, both leaders said. Noting that his country has very little trade activity with any country now, Mr. Ayed said at least initial discussion of trade liberalization with the United States would go a long way toward at least bolstering the aspirations of his people – an essential element for political and social stability.

USTR has promised Tunis a re-look at its economic trade relations – including reactivation of its Trade and Investment Framework Agreement – in November.

But the credibility of the United States is at an all-time low among other nations – and about the only thing concrete that ministers and other economic officials could take back to their capitals was "hope" based on suspected empty rhetoric and false promises.

The latest remarks by Mr. Campbell seem to justify that criticism.

An essay in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs suggests that the biggest danger of further economic declines in the Arab states of the Middle East is the enticement of young intellectuals toward radicalism. They don’t support jihad, the article continued, but may see little else.

Any comments?

Jim Berger

Engage the Arab Spring -- a blog by National Foreign Trade Council Vice President Dan O'Flaherty

We’ve been here before. That was in 1992 when the Soviet Union had collapsed and Congress passed the "Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets Support Act." The law embodied the transition of the region from hostile adversary to partner and substituted a policy of engagement for that of military defense and confrontation. The law authorized aid programs and set performance criteria for traditional AID-style government-to-government programs.

But it went farther. It established a platform for private sector engagement by creating American Business Centers that connected U.S. companies to commercial opportunities that would in turn stimulate the growth needed to legitimate the successor regimes.

In 2011 we need a Middle East North Africa Freedom Support Act. At 23%, the MENA region has the highest unemployment of any region in the world. Post-revolutionary unemployment in Tunisia is about 18%. In Egypt, where 32% of the people are under 15, unemployment is 16%. Combined with rising food prices, the economic crisis could easily undermine the prospects for democracy.

Last week the G-8 committed $80 billion to five countries in the region over two years. This will provide desperately needed budget support to transitional governments. But it will not create jobs. ?

This week the Tunisian finance minister told a Washington audience that his country wants to become a knowledge-based economy and called for business-to-business linkages, especially in IT. This is the challenge of true engagement to which the American public and private sectors must once again rise.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

WTO's Winning "Academy Awards" Video -- ugh!

It’s not easy writing an interesting story about an ongoing trade negotiation.

WTD spent a full 10 days in Chicago earlier in the month to try to get something on the progress of the TransPacific Partnership negotiations – just about the only trade game the United States has going.

The top stars of the show were career trade negotiators – many with experience in Geneva – where hardly ever a word is spoken to the press. They understand their own back and forth banter but generally have a hard time putting what they mean into plain words that the public can understand.

TPP participates are the United States, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.

Despite the secret nature of the negotiations – which is quite understandable since the TPP negotiations are about mid-way to completion and very sensitive – host US Trade Representative urged press to attend. So we went – but not many others.

There we were along with Inside US Trade – who was there for the first three days of the negotiations. Coming for the end were Washington reporters from Reuter and Bloomberg news service. Also on hand for the three official press availabilities were Chicago-based reporters from the Bureau of National Affairs, the Associated Press, a local television station and reporters from two or three Japanese news outlets.

The concluding press conference was led by Assistant USTR Barbara Weisel and attended by the other seven of the eight lead negotiators. The Chilean negotiator took an early plane home.

The press conference opened with a short and rather stiff statement – read in the quiet but quite pleasant voice of Ms. Weisel – outlining in minimal terms where progress was made and where more is needed.

WTD reported that aspect in its September 16 issue –

Ms. Weisel said many chapters – including customs, technical barriers to trade, telecommunications, government procurement and new issues on small- and medium-sized enterprises, regulatory coherence, competitiveness and development – are moving toward closure. Progress also was made – but more is needed – on some complex chapters, including intellectual property and investment.

In an effort to put a little life in that description for our readers, WTD asked Ms. Weisel and the other negotiators if there was any particular area of progress which was perhaps surprising or unanticipated when they gathered more than a week earlier for the talks.

The answer – following a moment of silence – was spoken by Ms. Weisel, who said she had just said where the progress was.

None of the other commented except New Zealand’s negotiator – who speaks "New Zealand" in a heavy accent and mumbles. It took quite a few listenings of the tape to find out that he essentially added nothing.

The beginning set the pace and substance of the half-hour session. There were some questions on labor to the Vietnam delegate and a lot of questions from the Japanese press about prospects for Tokyo joining the talks.

WTD wrapped up the session asking if the delegation could give an indication of when the TPP might conclude. They are expected to send a detailed account of the negotiations by the time of the November APEC Leaders’ meeting in Honolulu and have another negotiating session in Lima next month.

The answer from Ms. Weisel – "We working as hard as we can to conclude a comprehensive agreement"

What an experience.

Jim Berger

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The TPP and the FTAs

More than 200 professional trade negotiators in Chicago this week and half of last week are slogging through what is expected to be a comprehensive and extensive Asia-Pacific TransPacific Partnership free trade agreement – if stars align correctly in the coming months.

The TPP participants are the United States, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. For the most part the negotiators are keeping their noses buried in some 20-plus topics – ranging from market access, textiles, government procurement to new issues like access for small and medium size enterprises, streamlining of national customs procedures and "access to medicines."

What is unmentionable here, but on the top of everyone’s thoughts is the fate of the long-pending US free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. They were all negotiated and completed by the Bush Administration but has languished without action for over two years by the Obama Administration. Once promised to be passed by Congress by the end of July, officials and interested – and optimistic – members of Congress now don’t expect to see action before December.

For the career – and non-political – negotiators here the FTAs are none of their business. In the negotiating rooms are concentrating on TPP issues. But outside – in the hallways and over lunch and dinner breaks – talk quickly shifts to the FTAs, WTD was told by several participants here. One participate explained it in simple terms – hard decisions on the most important aspects of the TPP negotiations cannot be made until the final fate of the FTAs is settled. Who wants to expend the time making offers and giving concessions in TPP without knowing whether the one major player in the talks – the United States – will follow through on those commitments, asked one participant.

TPP negotiators will stick to discussing some sensitive issues in the talks and perhaps negotiate some resolutions on technical matters. But nothing significant will occur in the coming months because of the FTA morass in Washington – further delaying conclusion of the TPP talks until well into 2012.

There also were some 250 "stakeholders" – more familiarly known as lobbyists in Washington parlance. They are talking about the details of TPP, but also are keeping their eyes and discussions focused on the FTAs. They are as perplexed over the procedural system in Washington as the negotiators. None of the "stakeholders" – many of whom have spent entire careers in the trade arena inside and outside of Washington – understand the reasons behind the morass in Washington. All they know if the FTAs situation does not result in action soon, TPP talks will collapse.

Jim Berger

Friday Podcast

Our Friday afternoon podcast is back!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bird Dogging Continued

Bird Dogging Continued

Looks like opponents to the three pending free trade agreements are hard at work. A blog from California Fair Trade Coalition Director Tim Robertson published by Huffington Post describes his recent experience "bird dogging" US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

In his blog, Robertson relates an impromput interview with the USTR, who was in San Francisco promoting the FTAs as part of the Adminstration's job-creation plan.  He even provides a transcript of the Q&A, along with his commentary on each of Kirk's responses.

Neither side come out looking particularly good.  Kirk is affable, but sticks to the usual carefully-scripted platitudes about the importance of the FTAs to job creation, while Robertson is equally wedded to the usual anti-FTA rhetoric.  It's pretty clear that neither is listening to the other.

But that's been the problem with the trade debate for a quite a while now, hasn't it?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Resurrection Idea for Doha

First, the World Trade Organization had an idea 10 years ago to improve on the unfinished business of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations – with special attention paid to the protective agriculture sector. But the United States quashed that effort earlier this year.

Then WTO Director General Pascal Lamy had an idea for members to agree on what they could agree upon and get those issues in place by the time of the next ministerial meeting in December. But, apparently, the United States could not agree on anything. So that fell through.

Now there has been some talk from Mr. Lamy’s office about coming up with a non-Doha Development Agenda agenda of issues for December. Nobody knows what that is about.

But don’t fell downtrodden. Here’s the latest alternative to a multilateral trade agreement. Te latest WTO idea is a video contest on the future of world trade. That should solve the world’s trade problems.

WTD has some suggestions –

1. A slow Olympics-type opening ceremony of the 153 delegations in the WTO – all in business suits, not native dress – slowly marching around the playing field. And all to the music of Mahler’s Symphony No 1 "funeral" march – which gradually speeds up in tempo. Toward the end the marchers straighten out – all under the leadership of US Trade Representative Ron Kirk. They suddenly charge – at an increasingly fast pace – toward the horizon where all disappear over a cliff.

2. A second scenario rivals the great 1963 film by Any Warhol entitled "Sleeping" – which is five and on half hours of a person sleeping. That should get the message across. (I didn’t last through it in 1963 because I think I fell asleep during the midnight show at the Janus in Washington.)

3. A third – and perhaps best – scenario is a blank black screen overlaid by various remarks on Doha made by the WTO Director Generals since 2001.

The winner apparently gets an all-expense paid trip to Geneva to watch the December ministerial – WOW.

Here’s the link to the video application:

Jim Berger

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trade Policy 101 -- Failing Grade

The White House photo below is of President Obama posing with members of a Galesburg, Illinois, high school football team during the final day of his three-day Midwest bus tour Wednesday.

If the President were a high school student today, he probably would not be eligible to be on the football team because most schools require passing grades in order to participate in organized school sports.

Mr. Obama so far is getting an "F" in Trade Policy 101.

Twice again yesterday in "Town Hall" appearances in his home state of Illinois, the President got his legislative process wrong. In both speeches he again called on Congress to pass the three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, saying that Congress "right now" could be voting on the trade deals.

Wrong again. As I’ve pointed out in two previous blogs, Congress cannot vote on the trade deals "right now" or ever, until President Obama sends the implementing legislation to Capitol Hill. So the ball, as they say, is in the President’s court – although that’s another sport.

Ever since lawmakers left town for the August break, the President has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the three FTAs and has made clear that he sees the trade deals as a key part of his economic recovery strategy.

But what he has yet to say is that he actually intends to submit the FTAs to Congress, so that the votes can take place. Perhaps he is saving that announcement for the major speech on job creation that the President intends to make right after Labor Day.

An exchange earlier this week between chief White House spokesman Jay Carney and reporters suggests the White House is still not ready to submit the FTAs (or "TFAs", as Mr. Carney called them) because there is still no deal on renewal of expired Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits. Mr. Carney also suggests to reporters that the Treasury Department is in charge of both the trade deals and TAA, which should come as a surprise to both the US Trade Representative’s office and the Department of Labor.

Here’s the official White House transcript:
Q One other small point -- the President has called for patent reform and passage of the trade bills. And Republicans in Congress are saying we’re planning a vote on patent reform as soon as Congress comes back, and the President hasn’t submitted the trade bills, so why does he keep calling for these two items if they’re --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re glad that the Congress will vote on the patent reform and hope they will. We’ve been calling for it for quite a while and hope they finally will vote on it. That’s a good sign. That will be a helpful thing if that takes place.
And on the trade bills, we’ve said all along that we need to take action and we need to get an agreement with Congress on the submission process. We’ve made a lot of progress in our dealings with the Senate leaders, and hope and expect that that will -- process will be resolved and we’ll get this done, because we definitely agree that passing those trade bills and making sure we have a process that allows for the TFAs [sic] and the TAA to go forward will be very beneficial to the economy.
Q So this is basically a sequencing issue, Jay, getting the TAA passed first and then getting the --
MR. CARNEY: It’s not -- how the process itself works, I might steer you to Treasury on that. But it’s just -- it’s working out an agreement. We’ve made some progress. We’re working out an agreement with Congress for submission.

Failing grades all around so far. Let’s see if the President and his staff can do some homework and bring up that grade point average before it’s too late.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trade Policy 101 -- Back to School?

     A few weeks ago I wrote a blog titled "Trade Policy 101" calling out President Obama for urging Congress to send him the three long-pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. As I pointed out then, lawmakers can’t send the President the trade agreements until he first formally submits them to Congress.
     In that blog, I also wrote that "of course, the President knows perfectly well how the ‘fast track’ legislative process under Trade Promotion Authority works. He was simply trying to shorthand a complicated procedural issue" for a non-policy wonk audience while shifting the blame for the delay in action on the FTA’s to Congressional Republicans.
     But now I’m starting to wonder...
     In multiple speeches since then, the President has made the same call on Congress to send him the free trade agreements – as though their fate is completely out of his hands. His comments may just be about making Republicans look bad, but it appears that at least some in the White House really don’t know how the "fast track" process works – or where the FTAs are in the process.
     That became clear last Friday when White House Spokesman Josh Earnest – in response to a question about why the President keeps telling Congress to move the FTAs when he hasn’t submitted them – asked "Have we not sent them over?" The official White House transcript of the daily briefing notes that Mr. Earnest’s question prompted laughter.
     In his defense, the spokesman acknowledged that he is "not intimately steeped in" the legislative mechanics. He continued by saying there is clearly agreement between the White House and both Congressional Republicans and Democrats about the benefits of the FTAs "and it’s something that we should move on really quick."
     And that brings us right back to President Obama. If the FTAs are so important to US economic growth – as the President keeps saying – surely, he will submit them next month as soon as Congress returns from its summer break.
     But again today, even as I’m writing this blog, President Obama kicked off a three-day bus tour of the Midwest focused on the economy by once again telling Congress to pass the FTAs, saying "that’s something that Congress could do right now."
     So maybe it is time for the President to take a refresher course in Trade Policy 101 to make sure he understands that no matter how many times he asks, Congress cannot send him the FTAs until he sends them up to the Hill.

Mary Berger

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bird Dogging


Opponents of the three free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea – but particularly Korea – are spending the rest of August "bird dogging" members of Congress as they return to their Congressional districts and face their electorate.

WTD listened in on a telephone organizing session last week – directed by Public Citizen – and got an ear-full.

What are the opponents "dogging"? – House members who are still sitting on the fence, unsure of how to vote on the three trade deals, most of whom are in California, Illinois, New York, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.

The game of bird dogging is played by shadowing members as they move around their districts to various public forums, Rotary Clubs and "town halls." Admittedly, says Public Citizen, trade is not high on the agenda for most Americans. But the district activities give them an opportunity to bring up the subject and ask – directly and in front of local television cameras and radio microphones – what they think of the "job losing" "NAFTA-like" free trade agreements.

A successful "bird dog" can lead members that are sitting on the fence at least to give a tentative "no" or cautious negative in public – the aim of the whole exercise. Those answers, Public Citizen hopes, will put the onus on the pro-trade business groups – such as the US Chamber of Commerce – to argue their case.

Although admitting that the three free trade accords will likely pass Congress – although not by the margins that supporters project – opponents are not ruling out a victory, especially if President Obama doesn’t get around to formally submitting the FTAs to Congress this fall.

A continued dispute between the Administration, House Democrats and Congressional Republicans over renewal of expired benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program – and whether the TAA vote should take place before, after or at the same time at the FTAs – is giving trade pact opponents hope that the White House will give up on trying to get the trade deals approved at all this year.

Public Citizen organizers reminded their listeners that candidate Obama was a strong opponent of all three Bush Administration trade agreements.

As one activist put it, given the relatively few number of days left in the Congressional session when lawmakers return to Washington in September, every day of delay in submitting the FTAs makes a vote less likely.

On the other side of the fence, WTD recently heard from a seasoned business lobbyists well acquainted with the current Congress and the FTAs. He said "no problem," there is solid and strong support for three accords.

What is he doing this August? Cleaning his office. The US Chamber of Commerce – which directed a first lobbying pass-through of Congressional offices on all three accords during the first week of August – apparently is on vacation, relaxing on their confidence.

What do you think?

Jim and Mary Berger.

Friday, July 29, 2011

USTR's Middle of the Road Strategy


“We are not going to stand idly by while other nations sign hundreds of free trade agreements” US Trade Representative Ron Kirk stated during a presentation earlier this week to the Bretton Woods Committee – a day after Washington pulled the rug from under continued attempts by other nations to keep the Doha Development Agenda negotiations alive. 
The USTR is right.  He is not going to stand idly by.  More likely than not, he will lay down in the middle of the road and let others run over the United States as they proceed on their own toward liberalized  trade.
But Mr. Kirk foresaw that criticism.  He said Washington will go after Canada for its refusal to unleash its Mounted Police on its citizens who cam cord first-run movies in their theaters – and a couple of other minor issues that did not stick in my head.  He also credited himself with moving through Congress three long-delayed free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.  All are three years old already – started and completed by the previous Administration – and far from Congressional approval.
Mr. Kirk also pointed to the ongoing “21st Century” free trade agreement negotiations with eight other major economies in the Asia-Pacific region – whose US participation was initiated by President  Bush and then US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.  Those talks – never really on a steady foundation because of serious concerns by others of US intent -- have been seriously undermined by the Obama Administration’s hostility toward the development agenda of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations.  Vietnam and Malaysia are strong stakeholders in both negotiations.
There are no plans for more FTAs from the US view -- except in response to a question from the floor about the need for closer trade ties in the Middle East to balance out the social upheaval of late.  Mr. Kirk said his office was in the “very, very early” stages of such a plan – which was outlined by President Obama in May.  (He couldn’t remember the name of the initiative – which is the Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative. )
So what’s in the works or on the books by others – an EU-Canada free trade agreement; an India-EU trade arrangement; a China-New Zealand trade agreement; a South Korea-India economic partnership agreement;  Canada-Panama FTA -- and the list goes on.
What’s the bottom line on US trade policy formulation – Do nothing and certainly don’t bother the President with such trifling issues.
Jim Berger

Monday, July 25, 2011


     "I want Congress to send me a set of trade deals that would allow our businesses to sell more products in countries in Asia and South America that are stamped with the words, ‘Made in America."
     That’s what President Obama said in his opening remarks at a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland Friday.
     So, now we know what’s really holding up the three FTAs – President Obama is waiting for Congress to send him the trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, but Congress can’t send him the agreements, because lawmakers don’t have them. Congress can’t vote on the three FTAs until the President formally submits them – which at the very end of his College Park appearance on Friday Mr. Obama indicated isn’t going to happen until there’s a deal on the debt limit.
     Of course, the President knows perfectly well how the "fast track" legislative process under Trade Promotion Authority works. He was simply trying to shorthand a complicated procedural issue for an audience that doesn’t – while sending reassurances to the US business community that desperately wants these FTAs that he still plans to move forward. And at the same time, the President was also doing a little blame-laying – basically telling the audience that Congress – not the White House – is holding up the FTAs.
     Lawmakers certainly are not innocent in the delay over the FTAs, but neither is the White House. And while the two sides continue to point fingers at each other, the FTAs continue to sit...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Controls, Controls, Controls, Controls, Controls

WTD is into its third day of covering an exhaustive – and exhausting – Commerce Department export controls outlook conference, which is explaining to an audience of well over 1,000 participants the ins-and-out of last Friday’s multifaceted proposed regulation on shifting mun...itions items from the State Department’s controls list to the less stringent and clearer Commerce Department Commodity Controls List.
Three days is enough to get a start on understanding the new regulation.

Commerce’s strategy at the conference is a correct one – repeating over and over again what the regulations mean in practice – without using bureaucratic philosophical terms. The audience is either rapt or has simply mutated into their seats. I can’t tell.

After two or three rounds of plenaries and numerous breakout sessions, even I am beginning to understand the regulations. An hour-long question and answer session this morning with Commerce’s regulation guru Assistant Secretary Kevin Wolf included a disclaimer that even he had to read the definition of “specially designed” at least a half-dozen times to begin to understand it. But he had encouraging words for the audience suggesting a read of a dozen or more times will help it to begin to make sense.

Overheard at a session on the new Strategic Trade Authorization license exception rule was one participant saying under his breath – “You have to have the rule memorized to begin to understand the explanation.”
Also noticed – sitting right next to me – was a young controls expert in the making from an old-line law firm fast sleep for the nearly one-and-a-half hours of the session. A peek at his notes indicated – “STA license exception” That was it.

But most participants seem to prove the old adage – better devil you than the devil you don’t. The only real applause came early on in the opening address on Tuesday by Commerce Undersecretary for Business and Industry Eric Hirschhorn when he announced that Commerce would put back on its webside a pdf copy of the old Export Administration Regulations.

Jim Berger

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mr. Kirk and the Early Harvest

Here’s what US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said to a luncheon meeting of the Agribusiness Council on Tuesday when asked about the prospects for an early harvest in the Doha Development Agenda –

"Well, you know the easy thing for everybody to do in Doha is to all say let’s just do what we’ve all agreed on. Well, okay. Then you try to make a list of what it is that everyone has agreed on.

There is a reality that you’ve not going to bridge the gaps, particularly in manufacturing and others in order to conclude the round in the foreseeable future.

So there was some thought that if you could have a package of those items on which you had some consensus, maybe you could have an ‘early’ harvest if you could find a way to give, frankly, the developed economies some assurance that everybody just won’t pocket this and run away.

So how do you do that in a way that creates an incentive for us to come back to tackle the tough issues around market access in manufacturing and opening up services. Trade facilitation – that’s the good news.

The bad news in Doha is that there’s 10 people in the room, we all got 10 different things on the list. So it is a challenge. It is engaging at times. Ridiculously humorous. You need a good sense of humor to do what we do.

What some of us perceive as being thoughtful in terms of keeping, frankly, the emerging markets engaged and adding a reason to bring them back to the table on some issues which they believe they can address. So, we’re not there yet. We’re not there. We’re not ready to give up, but we’re not there.

Jim Berger

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


 Some malware cut down both of our computers earlier in the week, requiring us to use an old and slow laptop and a notebook to put out the daily issues.  We are waiting for the Geeks to get through with the first pc and then for the second.  Waiting is killing us.  It sort of thwarts everything we have planned on doing.

 The same is happening in US trade policy.

 Finally, Congressional supporters of advancing US trade in general are waiting for the Senate Finance Committee to finally schedule a “mock” markup of the three long-pending free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama.  They also are waiting to set a markup probably tomorrow afternoon on the lapsed US Generalized System of Preferences Program and the Andean Trade Preferences Program. 

The committee also is expected to take up extension of the politically controversial 2009 additional trade adjustment assistance program for Americans who have lost their jobs directly related to trade.

 The pending free trade agreements have been pending for upwards of five years.

 Trade supporters also are waiting for the Obama Administration to finish its over-a-year review of a model Bilateral Investment Treaty.  That program is instrumental to providing assurances for companies – both American and foreign – that their investments will not be taken away or curtailed, which officials freely agree is true.

 Like with us, the waiting dampens enthusiasm for future initiatives – including the Administration’s highly-touted TransPacific Partnership negotiations – and erodes support for trade, rather than builds it.

 WTD, along with many of our subscribers, are getting impatient.  Understandably, some of our readers are asking why they are paying for a daily newsletter only to read the same story every day – why nothing is happening.  And they are cancelling for the first time in 20 years of publication.

 Its killing to have to wait and not exactly know what for.

 Jim Berger

Friday, June 24, 2011

Peace Funding Vs War Funding

        At a recent informal discussion on trade capacity building for developing countries – in advance of a big World Trade Organization review of the Aid for Trade Initiative next month – US trade officials touted the latest US capacity building offer, amounting to some $120 million over four years for subSaharan Africa.
        In addition to the paucity of the amount, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told a different audience in Washington that financial constraints in this country will force the Administration to focus on only a few countries in Africa for trade assistance rather than qualifying all 52 countries on the continent. He mentioned Tanzania and Zambia, both of which he recently visited.
        Deputy World Trade Organization Director General Valentine Rugwabiza told a session on the subject by the Washington International Trade Association that trade capacity building pledges by all industrial and advanced developing countries – including the United States – are well above expectations from two years ago.
        Deputy World Trade Organization Director General Valentine Rugwabiza told a session on the subject by the Washington International Trade Association that trade capacity building pledges by all industrial and advanced developing countries – including the United States – are well above expectations from two years ago.
        Over the past decade, US trade capacity building spending amounted to some $12 billion to all countries around the globe when the program was first state, according to an senior-level Agency for International Development Agency official. A great majority of those funds came from the US development assistance budget.
        The sad fact is that the $12 billion in "peace-building" trade infrastructure funding made over the past 10 years pales in comparison with the $10 billion the United States pours into Afghanistan every month.
        Here's the link to the WTO compilation of capacity building success stories:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Popping Corks

Colombian Ambassador Gabriel Silva started out a roundtable to update reporters on the status of the long-stalled US-Colombia free trade agreement Friday by announcing he had “moved the champagne from the wine cellar into the fridge.”

But the Ambassador was not celebrating any progress on his country’s FTA with the United States. Tha...t deal – along with trade pacts with Panama and South Korea – remains in limbo while the White House and Congressional Republicans try to strike a deal to move the FTAs and expired Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits.

Instead, Mr. Silva was getting ready to pop open the champagne in response to the announcement that a trade agreement between Colombia and Canada will take effect on August 15.

“This is good news for all of us who believe in free trade,” Mr. Silva told reporters.
But it’s bad news for many US exports to Colombia – particularly agricultural products. US share of Colombia’s agricultural market already has been taking a nosedive since Bogota signed a trade deal with the big agricultural producing countries of Mercosur. Now – in less than two month – Canadian wheat, pork and other key commodities will have a competitive advantage over US products.

Mr. Silva said he has long been arguing that the US delay in approving the FTA – which has sat on the sidelines for over four years now – is costing US jobs. The situation will only get worse on August 15. And Colombia is continuing to look for other trading partners. A trade pact with the European Union is expected to take effect early next year. Meanwhile, Colombia’s legislature last week approved an investment protection agreement with China – the first step toward a possible free trade deal with that country.
Asked by WTD if it’s too late for the United States to win back its lost market share in Colombia, the Ambassador was optimistic. Colombians actually prefer US products and there are already strong business ties between Colombian and US companies because of the Andean trade preferences program (although that is now also expired).

But while the White House and Congress continue to wrangle over TAA, Colombia is moving ahead. Mr. Silva said he believes President Obama will live up to his commitment to get the FTA through Congress before the summer recess. But the Ambassador added that he hopes Congress is wise enough to understand that if the FTA is not approved now, it probably never will be.

So, is it time to get the champagne ready?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Doha and Election Year Politics

The “caution” light is on in the White House. Like a traffic signal, the White House amber signal advises going slow before turning “red” to avoid a potentially drastic accident. The political light turns red in November – when political campaigning gets underway “hot and heavy.”

It is now the beginning of June and the first major Republican Presidential candidate – former Massachusetts Governor and popular Mitt Romney – has thrown his hat into the ring. More notables will do so in the weeks ahead – prior to August.

Politicos at the White House are looking around now for possible campaign “accidents.” Hence the mystery over the US position on the Doha Development Agenda negotiations which survived two Presidential elections.

Countless studies over the years have shown that implementation of even the most aggressive Doha agenda would have very little impact – hardly noticeable – on the US economy.

Politically, though, an agreement would provide fodder for President Obama’s opponents. On the liberal Democratic side – including especially the labor wing of the party – the President’s hold already is tenuous. Agreeing to a trade-opening trade agreement would be more than enough to erode current support from liberals – already ready to abandon the President. A third-party liberal candidate on the scene could do the trick. With the White House taking responsibility for concluding a “job-losing”, “NAFTA-style” multilateral trade agreement, that support would go over the edge.

The few Republican moderates who remain in the America populace – many of whom supported Obama rather than back conservative John McCain and his vote-devastating running mate – would readily abandon the President without much thought.

The Administration cannot afford for purely domestic political reasons to take a chance and conclude the Doha negotiations.

Passing the three pending free trade agreements – soon, however, – is okay because of US Trade Representative’s Ron Kirk’s successful endeavor in repainting those Bush Administration agreements. Although little changed in substance, all three – with Colombia, Panama and South Korea – are now “job-creating” endeavors and integral aspects of the President’s National Export Initiatives.

WTD quoted an anonymous negotiator in Geneva just after the last Presidential election three years ago who said the already nearly decade-old trade negotiations will have to wait another four years for substantial negotiations to go forward once President Obama is elected to a second term and can pursue his agenda generally unhindered by election-year politics.

So the “caution” light is on.

Any comments?

Jim Berger
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rufus Yerxa's Favorite Joke

Here’s a favorite joke of World Trade Organization Deputy Director General Rufus Yerxa repeated last week by New Zealand Minister for International Trade Tim Groser –

“Rufus Yerxa arrives in Rome and is delayed iat the airport. He sits down with a WTO colleague and says I’ve got all the time in the world for you. Sit down and I will tell you about trade in the United States. You know, America is a great country. You can come from humble origins and you want to be President of the United States, you can do it. You come from a very modest family and want to become wealthy; you can do it. This country presents the greatest opportunities to become a wealthy person. You can do it.

You want to become a film star, you can get on the Greyhound bus, you go to Hollywood and get yourself an entry-level job. You can become a great film star.

You can do anything in the United States. There’s one thing you can’t do, you can’t import cheese.”


A senior trade negotiator from a major South Pacific island nation – whose chief and most known product is sheep – praised WTD’s Geneva correspondent Ravi Kanth earlier this week. The compliment came totally unsolicited by WTD. The negotiator was on his way from Great Sky, Montana to Paris to continue rescue talks on the Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations – with a brief stopover in Washington.

Ravi, the official said when I brought up the subject that WTD will be in Paris for the talks in the form of our Geneva correspondent, is the best trade reporter in Geneva. He gets on top of things there and digs to the bottom to try to make sense of it all. Not only does Ravi understands trade, but he sincerely believes in it. Ravi goes way beyond looking for a catchy quote – which flutter about in Geneva like butterfly in a Panama rain forest.

WTD agrees.

As a post script, knowing the subject and writing as if the reader also knows the subject quite often leads to trouble – in which WTD and Ravi has had their share.

Congrats, Ravi.

Jim Berger

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Bad Dinner and Bad Weather in Big Sky, Montana

Have you ever gone over to someone house for dinner – and the dinner was horrible? Discretion dictates that one does not say anything to the guest about how awful it was, but usually the conversation on the way home turns to just that.

Well – the dozen ministers gathered at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministerial meeting in Big Sky, Montana, last week were polite and temperate during the last three days of the get-together as the United States spelled out what it saw as the dismal state of affairs in Geneva. Aside from the United States and China – who were at opposite poles on how the moribund Doha Development Agenda negotiations should proceed – no one else spoke up. Several ministers grimaced when asked by WTD what they thought of the US Doha description. One prominent South Pacific minister told a couple of reporters – who he happened to meet in a bar at the Big Sky Mountain Resort – that he had made a “political decision” to keep his opinion to himself. Then he started to fume.

But in Washington earlier in the week, three of those ministers were more lively. Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson and New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser bemoaned the situation with Doha – but recognized the dismal reality as outlined US Trade Representative Ron Kirk in Montana. None pointed figures – here or there – at least publically.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu echoed what a senior Chinese trade official stated in the concluding press conference at Big Sky on Friday – that Beijing intends to support and pursue an “aggressive, comprehensive and balanced” final agreement that fully takes into account the needs of developing countries.

All three ministers participated in an informal session on Monday about APEC and Doha sponsored by the East-West Center and the US Asia-Pacific Council.
Ministers are in Paris this week to see if some type of “plan B” – less than comprehensive – solution can be had.

It was cold and rainy in Big Sky during the final two days of the ministers – when ministers actually attended. Tomorrow’s forecast for Paris is windy and partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees F. It’s going to rain Friday.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dropping the Bomb on Doha

Well – US Trade Representative Ron Kirk this morning dropped the bomb on the decade-old Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations in front of 21 liberal-leaning trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries.

In a highly "diplomatic" and meandering statement to ministers – delivered privately but later released to the public – the USTR suggested that there are several routes to deal with the Doha negotiations, but indicated that the United States would only follow one. It will get what it can in modest achievements from the talks in Geneva and then move quickly to something that has real prospects for success – such as the nine-nation TransPacific Partnership negotiations.

High-level US officials here told WTD at a ski resort in Big Sky, Montana, that there is unspoken support for the US stance on Doha from 20 other Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers who are all anxious to move ahead with TPP.

When the Uruguay Round was in similar doldrums during the first Bush Administration, then US Trade Representative Carla Hills turned full-hearted toward negotiation of a US-Canada-Mexico North American Free Trade Agreement. Fears that the United States would abandon the multilateral approach and move along bilateral and regional routes to freeing up trade were deep enough to re-spark those negotiations in 1992.

Things are a bit different now, but the strategy could amount to the same.

Doha lives?

Jim Berger

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sky High at APEC

Here I sit in the fire place lounge at the Huntley building of the Big Sky Montana lodge – not really doing nothing but taking in the atmosphere – both physical and rhetorical – of this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade meetings. Both are sky high.

The press aren’t allowed in until tomorrow – Tuesday – but I’ve managed to smile my way pass the guards.

I can’t really find anything out about the specifics of the negotiations – which cover a universe of issues, from trade, small and medium size enterprises, health and medical devises and procedures. But the vibes I’m getting are all positive.

Some private sector people here – who are participating in some unique public/private sessions – are pleasantly surprised that APEC officials are not talking about the same old stale stuff – tariffs, free trade agreements or DOHA. What was discussed enthusiastically by all was lively, forward-looking and overall refreshing.

I had a very enlightening interview today – which we will publish toward the end of the week – with Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance Michael Camunez and Malaysia-based SME Corp chief executive officer Hafsah Hashim on a first-ever effort to start developing APEC-wide ethical principles on a sector-by-sector basis. The first – which trade and commerce ministers are expected to approve on Saturday – is for the medical devices sector.

On Saturday, I sat all day and observed in my limited 20 foot-by-20 foot lounge with a fire place and a coffee bar.

After six hours, I gave up and headed for the Whisky Jack bar, where – not surprisingly – I spied a couple of long-time USTR friends. The bar continued to attract other USTRs – boy they are getting a lot younger or I’m getting a lot older. The talk was over wine and beer and had nothing to do with substance, except for the normal rumors that everybody in Washington wants to know about. Sorry folks, promised that I wouldn’t even blog that.

The Whisky Jack session, however, was abruptly recessed after only four beers because the USTR folk had to go practice for tonight’s Karaoki session. Apparently, USTR has come up with APEC lyrics to a song – don’t know the tune – which will be premiered tonight. There were specific instructions that I was not to be anywhere in sight or ear shot.

Maybe substance tomorrow. But the real activities – as ministers start to arrive – are not likely until Wednesday.
Jim Berger

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Transparency -- Or Lack Thereof

Washington Trade Daily was informed yesterday by the Treasury Department – a day after World Press Freedom Day – that it has been denied press credentials to cover the much touted US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a two-day meeting beginning next week.

WTD has covered the annual event since the beginning whenever it was held in Washington or its environs.
The reason Treasury gave is the lack of room for a large contingent of reporters.
The real reason, WTD was told by one very special credentialed press member, is that Treasury wants to keep news – or lack thereof – of the gathering at a very low profile and would prefer no reporting on the critical economic issue of Chinese currency.

Only a handful of select “Treasury” correspondents will be allowed to cover the event, WTD was told.
While the United States wants to turn off the free press spigot, the Chinese – as has been the case in previous years – will likely brief its large press contingent almost continuously.

Don’t worry reader. WTD will get the information, even if it means stealing from the Chinese press.

The lack of transparency which is increasingly characterizing the Obama Administration continues to spread. In the case of trade – of which WTD has the most experience – the current US Trade Representative continues to hide his personal behind the walls at the Winder Building on 18th Street. While small private-sector organizations – both academic and ideological – continue their efforts to hold public sessions on the various aspects of US trade policy, there is seldom to be seen any participant from USTR, the Commerce Department or the Treasury Department.

The State Department has been more generous in letting its employees out to explain US trade policy. It must be noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier in the week addressed the issue of press freedom around the world.

But, as usual, I suppose the United States is the exception where general rules of the game and fair-play do not apply.

Jim Berger

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Playing Ball and Doha

“On Saturday, April 23rd, Ambassador Ron Kirk helped the Texas Rangers honor the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut in Major League Baseball. Ambassador Kirk threw the ceremonial first pitch of the game. In front of thousands of fans, he pitched the ball across home plate to First Base Coach Gary Pettis. The Ambassador also partic...ipated in the pre-game warm up.”


         Both the US Trade Representative’s office and Washington Trade Daily seem to be kicking up some dust in Geneva – with USTR Kirk’s recent proclamation that the decade-old Doha trade round is “dead” at least for the rest of the year and the explosion of emotion by some WTO Secretariat staff against the way WTD is reporting what is going on there.
       The United States – which Australia Ambassador Kim Beazley says holds the key to success or failure of the development trade round – is now saying that there is still hope for completing the round, but for now will enter a “moment of sobriety.” The USTR – along with his deputy in Geneva Michael Punke as recently as today – said again that developing countries must open their markets far more than they already have and above what was “agreed” in the December 2008 negotiating formulas in goods, services and agriculture before the United States will play ball.
         In the meantime, Washington has been tight-mouthed about what it will give in return for that additional access. Some officials suggest that since the United States is so wide-open, it does not have to offer anything . US officials are silent on high tariffs on textiles and apparel, “de facto” sugar and peanut quotas, domestic supports to its cotton producers and manufacturers, a business visa system which essentially limits job-creating foreign investments in this country and carry-on export sales, domestic shipping requirements, Buy America requirements, an array of restraints on services businesses and foreign investment, mostly which reside in the powers of the various states and too-tight sanitary and phytosanitary rules governing food imports. There are certainly many more.
        For WTD’s part, we have again been roundly criticized in Geneva and Washington for spreading rumors and making up stories – not only half-truths, but full fabrications – about the negotiating round. Should Doha fail, it would not be surprising to us, at least, to hear from the WTO Secretariat that the blame falls entirely on the three-person staff of WTD who run the business out of a spare bedroom in Wheaton, Maryland .
        Mr. Lamy’s office has even threatened to pull our United Nations press credentials.
Professionals in Geneva, apparently believe that what is discussed behind closed doors should not be reported. So much for freedom of the press -- which apparently is unimportant to the 19th century stiff-collar bureaucrats in Geneva.
         But more than one senior trade envoy in Geneva has complemented the work of WTD, with one just this week asking rhetorically how else will delegations there know what’s going on.
Apparently, those that claim they run the WTO act as if its membership still numbers only a score of like-minded, rich nations -- instead of the 153, of which the vast majority are still striving for sustained economic growth and for which trade is a crucial aspect of that development.
          So as the most credibility crisis flames again in Geneva – sparked by the most recent screeching by the United States – the USTR office is touting the great USTR Kirk’s appearance in Dallas to throw out the first ball at the season opener of the Texas Rangers.

Any comments?
Jim Berger



Below is the first -- and only -- editorial we did in the newsletter on January 18, 1988. We think is stands today and offers our own editorial philosophy.

Jim and Mary Berger

Editor’s Note:

Hopefully, this will be the only time that the editor will have to write something about the philosophy driving this new publication.
Trade is serious business. Not only for businesses, but for mankind. The free flow of trade contributes to a peaceful world; it puts food in the bellies of hungry people and provides employment all over the world.
The threat to free trade is real. What some countries do to “protect” their economic base by limiting trade is economically counterproductive, but often politically attractive.
Washington Trade Week will work hard to see that the public is informed on issues of vital importance to them. It will balance straight news reporting with analyses of trade policy trends.
This editor welcomes letters, comments and suggestions on what we print.


Jim Berger