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

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