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