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 )