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

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