Thursday, December 18, 2014


   Catch this series of photos by the Japanese agri news press a week ago on how US Trade Representative Froman disposes of an anti-free trade coffee cut holder during an early morning  anti-free trade demonstration outside his office.  Smooth, but noticed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Was it an overnight – “born again” – conversion?

Until a few days ago President Obama was unable to get the world “trade” out of his mouth.  The most he could say from the beginning of his Administration in 2009 was “exporting Made-in-America products.”

But last week he spoke a tidal wave of remarks on how good trade is – first to the Business Roundtable (a business grouping of multinationals) and then another organization of corporate giants – the National Foreign Trade Council.  He suddenly was lecturing the world on the benefits of trade and why he needed special Presidential trade negotiating authority to negotiate trade deals.

The deluge of trade speak from the Administration started Wednesday morning when new Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs Nathan Sheets commented to a Brookings Institution get-together that the President himself and his employees would work hard to make the argument that trade is good for everybody.  He said the Administration intents to make the free-trade argument to anybody who will  listen, including members of Congress.

Difference between Day and Night?  Possibly.

No one can deny that last Wednesday’s remarks came as a big surprise.

Signals from Administration officials on the need for Trade Promotion Authority to conclude the ongoing TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been stated quietly over the past year.  But even a few days before the Presidential pronouncement, US Trade Representative Michael Froman was saying that the aim of the Administration was to negotiate good trade agreements – and then Congress would approve them.  He was quoting remarks by President Obama made earlier in the year during a visit to Mexico.

(An aside – Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker deserves kudos for unabashedly saying almost since her first days in office that, of course, the President needs TPA – not only to settle the now longer-running than expected trade agreements with the Asia-Pacific and Europe, but, obviously, to pave the way for more US sales around the world.

So why the conversion?    The answer –

        Administration observers and some members are right in saying that President Obama is looking around for a “legacy” that will make his two terms of “do-nothingness” in office into something tangible.

But why is the President all-of-a-sudden serious about the benefits of trade, even pledging to plead the case with his friends on Capitol Hill – and mostly long-time Democratic opponents of trade deals.  He told the Business Roundtable that he intends to tell them to stop fighting “old trade wars” – like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
        It is convenient to point out that Candidate Obama in 2008 had pledged to renegotiate NAFTA.  He also voted against CAFTA in 2005.

We will see.  And, coming from a long-time Washington trade guru, “We will believe it when we see it – on the Hill.”

At January’s state-of-the union address, President Obama called on Congress to give him trade promotion authority.  But the silence from the White House in the months that followed until last week have been deafening.

My prediction is that the rhetoric will fade into nothing once again.  Recent indications are leading toward that result.

Number 1, although the White House posted a transcript of the President’s remarks to the Business Roundtable on its webpage, a more direct plea for TPA was presented that evening via videotape at the centennial dinner celebration of the National Foreign Trade Council.  Neither the video nor transcript of those remarks can be found.  (We recorded it and posted it on WTD’s website under “primary sources.”)

Something else missing that evening was US Trade Representative Michael Froman, who decided to skip the event despite the virtual presence of the President and the personal appearance of  his direct White House boss, Valerie Jarrett – an affront to the President’s message and to the office of the USTR.

In attendance for the celebration were three former US Trade Representatives and incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
       The current USTR, however, was missing – a blatant affront to the President’s message – if it were sincere – and to the office of the USTR.
       Number 2.  When the President delivers a speech or makes an important remark during the week, it is usually followed by a Saturday White House podcast.  Not this time.  The weekly Saturday lecture by Professor Obama was about economic job growth – with only a brief phrase on “exporting American products.”

Is the TPA “teach-in” from last Wednesday for real – or a long-delay April Fool’s joke?  Will “trade” be uttered out loud more than a few times by the President over the next finally final two years in office?

Let us know what you think.

Jim Berger

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Here’s something for the books.

Every so often the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security publishes in the Federal Register a cautionary note about who you might not want to do high-technology export business with.

Here’s one from earlier this year –

Ming Suan Zhang, Inmate Number – 00819-005, Moshannon Valley Correctional Institution, 555 Geo Drive, Philipsburgh  PA    16866

Monday, October 27, 2014


Maybe I am naive, but I like to do business with a handshake – or in the case of Washington Trade Daily – a digital handshake.  In that way I hope to maintain trust with readers – even though some are dispersed around the globe and others only a couple of miles away in downtown Washington.

It’s been that way for 25 years – and 99.9 percent of the time, things have worked out well.

But this past week WTD took a double whammy.

Case number 1 – We received a call from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada from a staffer who wanted to be added to her office’s subscription to WTD.  I said of course and asked for the e-mail addresses of the new readers.
Later in the week, when I went to make the changes in the subscription, I found that Foreign Affairs Canada, indeed, did not subscribe.
I discovered – and they later admitted – that the Canadian mission in Geneva had taken upon itself to redistribute WTD – apparently willy-nilly – around the globe, including to its ministerial base.
Every issue of WTD includes in bold type:  WTD is intended for readers within the office that subscribes.  PLEASE do not redistribute.

I cut off the Geneva subscription.  They wanted their money back after having sent WTD free of charge to Ottawa for at least four years.

POST SCRIPT – Who was among the half dozen illegal recipients of our stolen intellectual property rights?  None other than chief Canadian trade negotiator Steve Verheul, who had spent the past four years negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union.  That agreement includes a chapter on intellectual property rights.

Case Number 2 – Quite often we receive bounce-back notices from subscribers.  One received said that Tim Lindemayer was not in the office and would not be back until October 26.  It was signed – Tim Lindemayer, Vice Counsel, Australian Consulate, Guangzhou, China.

The only problem here is that neither Mr. Lindemayer nor the Australian Consulate subscribes.

I made a quick check of our email addresses for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra.  The six emails that I had for the department in Canberra look much like a virtual map of the Australian foreign service.

A quick Google search of the individual subscribers show that half were legitimate; three others were “free riders” scattered from China – including two at the Guangzhou Consulate – to Argentina.

Jim Berger

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tweeting the 21st Century

I watched a batch of Charlie Chaplin movies a few weeks ago at the American Film Institute which was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the tramp’s first moving pictures.  One of those movies – although not quite a century old – was Modern Times.

Here’s another short story – nonfiction – about 21st Century modern times.

Last week in what was a very slow trade news day in Washington, I covered a “soft” presentation at the US German Marshall Fund about its latest report on how much Europeans love Americans – and vice versa.   I went in hopes of gathering an inkling of news about the US-European Union TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations.
Over my many years of reporting on trade, I have learned to sleep at boring presentations, but always with one ear open for key words.
During an otherwise stock presentation by new Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland -- who recently was the department’s chef press flak -- she made  mention of three chief objectives in US-European relations, which included TTIP.  She noted the importance of completing the TTIP negotiations and getting it into working order as a top US priority for the United States.
I woke up.
The second point was the need to shore up a secure and independent European energy market – especially in the aftermath of Russia’s activities in Ukraine.
But now fully awake, what really got my attention was the third priority – “rooting out the cancer of corruption that is eating away at our livelihoods and our democracy and our security in too many parts of our own states.”  (Quote is not from memory, but from my own high-technology Sony recorder.)
Whoa!  What did she say?  Since when is corruption in Europe a priority for this country?
Interesting, but still not a trade story, so I didn’t pursue it with the speaker.
But afterwards, I spoke to some attendees lingering around after the presentation.  Saying that I am getting old and was afraid I am losing my hearing, I asked one European journalist friend what he made of Ms. Nuland’s corruption comment.   He admitted that he heard nothing about corruption or even TTIP in the speech.
I then asked a European Union official based in Washington.  His answer was that he also did not hear anything around corruption.  The then quickly admitted that he was fooling around with his smart phone.
I turned to a nearby student-age attendee.  He said he heard the reference to corruption in the speech, but did not know what the speaker was referring to.
A 21st Century (Modern Times) lesson.  Don’t count on people listening to you even if they are in the same room and only a few feet away – which could be a big boon for policymakers who participate in public sessions.
Perhaps the best way to get points across in the 21st century – truly – is to tweet your message across the ethersphere in 140 characters or less.

What?  What did he say?    WAKE UP.

Jim Berger

Thursday, September 4, 2014


What is old is often new again.  

Occasionally, WTD delves into its back issues to see what is old in trade news and what continues to return – often to badger new trade officials today.

Here’s some top articles from WTD a decade ago – September 6 through 10, 2004.

The first week of September is always a slow one – with Administration officials and members of Congress getting back from a month-long August recess.  But on September 6, 2004, WTD reported that ranking Commerce Department officials were working hard to ease a rapidly emerging crisis with China over an expected onslaught of textile imports.  Commerce Undersecretary for International Trade Grant Aldonas in the George W. Bush Administration was attempting to ease concerns of US textile producers who were threatening to file a slew of special China safeguard petitions.
Commerce was working on “guidelines” for petition reviewers in the department.  Later in the week Mr. Aldonas jetted off to Beijing to press for a comprehensive textile agreement.
Neither an agreement nor the filings ever came to fruition.

In Geneva, the United States said it intended to challenge a recent World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel verdict against an array of domestic and export subsidies programs for US growers of upland cotton.
Sound familiar?
The panel demanded that the United States immediately remove the subsidies.  There were some tweaks in the US farm law during its latest iteration last year.  But Brazil is still not happy and continues to threaten a WTO compliance case in which it considers essentially the same subsidies.

And US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the Bush Administration was eyeing free trade agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Oman.  The US-Oman FTA became a reality; but nothing emerged for the largest market in the region.

Finally, at the end of the week, the Bush White House rejected a second attempt in less than six months to bring a Section 301 unfair trade practices action against China for intentionally manipulating the renmimbi to promote its exports and block imports.  The petition was filed by the newly formed China Currency Coalition on Thursday morning and rejected in the afternoon.
The current saga continues, with every Administration since steadfastly rejecting similar calls for action to address the currency/trade issue.

Jim Berger

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Here’s an excellent analysis piece on promises made to African countries and promises forgotten at the World Trade Organization in Geneva by D. Ravi Kanth – an associate of Washington Trade Daily.  It was published on June 21 by India’s Economics and Political Weekly.

Doha Round
The Gloves are Off

Vol - XLIX No. 25, June 21, 2014 | D Ravi Kanth Web Exclusives

After having got developing and least developed countries to assent to a binding trade facilitation agreement at the 2013 ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Bali on the understanding that their bread-and-butter issues in agriculture and development would be addressed in the Doha Round negotiations, the US and the European Union do not seem to be in a mood to take things further. The post-Bali narrative indicates that a new agenda that does little to address distortions in the global trading system is about to be foisted on members when the Doha Round resumes.

D Ravi Kanth ( is a writer based in Geneva reporting on the multilateral organisations headquartered in Switzerland. 

It was a moment of triumph when 159 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) concluded an agreement at the ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, six months ago. “After an 18-year drought,” said Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo, the then recently-elected director general of the trade body from Brazil, “Bali proved that the WTO can deliver negotiated outcomes.” A binding agreement on trade facilitation (TF), along with several best endeavour outcomes, provided a glimmer of hope that the paralysed Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations would come back to life.

That the TF agreement is a payment to the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and other exporting countries for returning to the Doha negotiating table is an open secret. The developing and the least-developed countries, which remained divided in the run-up to the Bali meeting, agreed to TF on the assumption that their bread-and-butter issues in agriculture and development would be addressed. The weaker members of the global trading system were promised that they will receive substantial technical and financial assistance to implement ambitious TF commitments for tearing down so-called “red tape” and “bureaucratic” hurdles.

More importantly, it aimed at harmonising customs procedures and rules in the industrialised and developing countries, such as China and Korea. At one go, the new TF agreement will provide market access for companies such as Apple, General Electric, Caterpillar, UPS, Pfizer, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, Ebay , Hyundai, Huawei, and Lenovo, among others, to multiply their exports to the poorest countries. It is a different issue whether a majority of the people in sub-Saharan Africa or south Asia or other developing countries are endowed with the resources to use these gadgets. It is like a Marie Antoinette paradox of letting the poor consume high-end gadgets when they are impoverished. Several estimates of benefits, ranging from $64 billion to $1 trillion, were bandied about to sell the importance of the TF agreement.

Bali Promises

In an attempt to balance what some commentators called the fictitious Bali package, the developing and poor countries were promised several cosmetic best endeavour outcomes in agriculture and development. In agriculture, they include general services (such as land rehabilitation, soil conservation and resource management, drought management and flood control, rural employment programmes), public stockholding for food security purposes, an understanding on tariff rate quota administration, export competition, and some progress in phasing out trade-distorting cotton subsidies (provided largely by the US) in agriculture. The developmental outcomes cover non-binding outcomes on preferential rules of origin for the export of industrial goods by the poorest countries; an operationalisation of waiver on preferential treatment to services and service suppliers in least developed countries (LDCs); duty-free and quota-free market access for LDCs; and a monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities. 

Despite the “asymmetrical” and “unequal” Bali package, the developing and least developed countries joined the consensus as they were assured that the unfinished business in the DDA negotiations, particularly in agriculture and other areas, would be taken up on a war footing. “We instruct the Trade Negotiations Committee to prepare within the next 12 months a clearly defined work programme on the remaining Doha Development Agenda,” the Bali Declaration stated. “This will build on the decisions taken at this Ministerial Conference, particularly on agriculture, development and LDC issues, as well as other issues in the Doha mandate that are central to concluding the round.” The developing and least-developed countries were promised that “where legally binding outcomes could not be achieved they will be prioritised.” It meant very clearly that the best endeavour outcomes to developing country issues arrived at in Bali would be converted to binding commitments on a priority basis. This is the compromise that developing countries made at Bali to set the ball rolling and avoid being called spoilsports by the dominant countries in the WTO.

Reality Check

More than 180 days after the conclusion of the Bali meeting, the time has come for a reality check on whether the Bali best endeavour outcomes and the new TF agreement have progressed on an equal footing. Also, whether the speed and the focused attention on implementing the TF roadmap is demonstrated in other areas such as agriculture, particularly cotton subsidies, where the poorest west African countries continue to suffer. What about the progress on the food security text on which India waged a grim battle? Is there any forward movement on the developmental benefits promised to the poorest countries? Are the landmarks of the Doha mandate, which include the 2001 Doha agenda, the July 2004 framework agreement, the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration, and the December 2008 draft modalities in agriculture and industrial goods, the basis for formulating the post-Bali work programme to conclude the Doha negotiations? Have the developing and least developed countries, including China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Argentina, closed ranks to put up a common stand in the face of a combined push from the industrialised countries to give short shrift to the 2008 draft texts?

These are some issues on which the emerging narrative from the Centre William Rappard, the WTO headquarters in Geneva, is anything but encouraging. Although there is considerable activity at various levels, the progress so far has been only in one direction -- implementing the TF roadmap, while turning a deaf ear to the issues raised by the developing and poor countries. A constant refrain from the director general is first delivering on TF by implementing the deadlines set out in the Bali agreement. Otherwise, the DDA will soon turn to ashes if members choose to bring any linkage between TF and other Bali issues. African countries are threatened with dire consequences if they create any hurdles in implementing the TF roadmap, which includes drawing up the Protocol of Annexation and notifying the Category A commitments that come into force once the agreement is ratified. Developing country members are told, during closed-door meetings, not to doubt the intentions of the US and its commitment to the Doha negotiations.

The African countries which remain aggrieved since the Bali meeting about the lack of balance in the results have recently adopted a position that they would accept the TF agreement only on a provisional basis. At a meeting of African trade ministers in Addis Ababa in April 2014, they felt the Bali outcomes “were not the most optimal decisions in terms of African interests,” according to the African Trade Union commissioner, Fatima Acyl.  “We have to reflect and learn from the lessons of Bali on how we can ensure that our interests and priorities are adequately addressed in the post-Bali negotiations,” she said. The African ministers instructed their negotiators “to formally submit language on the Protocol of Amendment—the legal instrument that will enter the TF Agreement into force at the WTO—to the effect that the Trade Facilitation agreement will be provisionally implemented and in completion of the entire Doha Round of negotiation”.

The African countries have cited paragraph 47 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration for their negotiating position to adopt TF on a provisional basis. That paragraph says,

With the exception of the improvements and clarifications of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, the conduct, conclusion and entry into force of the outcome of the negotiations shall be treated as parts of a single undertaking. However, agreements reached at an early stage may be implemented on a provisional or a definitive basis. Early agreements shall be taken into account in assessing the overall balance of the negotiations.
There is a hue and cry about the African decision as if it has killed the TF agreement. After all, the TF and other issues were plucked out of the Doha agenda after the eighth ministerial meeting (under paragraph 47) on the ground that these were low-hanging fruit ready for consummation. Even though the draft TF text contained more than 800 square brackets in 2012, it was rushed through because of a concerted push by the US and its allies in total disregard to other issues in agriculture and industrial goods. 

Since the African countries have adopted a common position seeking provisional agreement on TF, all hell has broken loose at the WTO. “Don’t worry, nobody is going to walk away with your money,” the African countries were told at a retreat in Annecy, France, three months ago.

Ignoring 2008 Modalities

When it comes to agriculture, the dominant theme is how to give short shrift to what is called “Rev 4” or the December 2008 Fourth Revised draft modalities in agriculture as they are not acceptable to the US and the EU. Indeed, the director general’s statements about the Rev 4 text have caused grave doubts as to where he stands on this central issue. “If any of you insists that those [2008 draft modality texts] are cast in stone and unalterable, then you have made a choice; a choice that irreparably condemns our efforts to failure,” Azevedo told members at a trade negotiations committee meeting on 7 April 2014. “We therefore must resume our task of finding the balance and the convergence that would enable progress towards the conclusion of the Round.” This statement from the director general is neither here nor there about how to proceed on drawing up the post-Bali work programme on agriculture.

It is inexplicable how the director general arrived at this position on Rev 4 because in the past he said assiduously that they represented a “delicate balance” and “the basis” for negotiations. “Two general principles have guided Brazil and the G-20’s [Group of Twenty] positions in the substantive discussions on agriculture,” Azevedo wrote with Braz Baracuhy in an article titled “Agriculture -- At the Centre of DDA Negotiations.” (in Reflections from the Frontline: Developing Country Negotiations in the WTO, CUTS, 2011):

The December 2008 draft modalities are the basis for negotiations and represent the end-game in terms of the landing zones of ambition. Any marginal adjustments in the level of ambition of those texts may be assessed only in the context of the overall balance of trade-offs, bearing in mind that agriculture is the engine of the Round....
The draft modalities embody a delicate balance achieved after 10 years of negotiations. This equilibrium cannot be ignored or upset, or we will need readjustments of the entire package with horizontal repercussions. Such adjustments cannot entail additional unilateral concessions from developing countries.
But the US has made up its mind in agriculture and other areas of the Doha negotiations for some time now that it will under no circumstances accept the 2008 texts because of the change in realities in which China, India, and other countries have emerged as major exporters over the last five years. However, Washington wants market access in agriculture, industrial goods, and services in the emerging countries over and above what was decided in the draft 2008 modalities. Sadly, the Cairns Group led by Australia and the EU, which used to be a counterweight to the US in the previous trade negotiations, have joined forces with the US despite their differing trade agendas that fail to correspond to the demands raised by Washington.

Disappearing G20

Another major development is the sudden disappearance of the G-20 farm coalition led by Brazil in setting the agriculture agenda since last year. After all, it was the G-20 that played a major role after the ignominious Cancun ministerial meeting where trade-distorting subsidies in cotton and other farm products came to centre stage. The conspicuous silence of the G-20 in recent months has left the agriculture negotiating ground wide open to trans-Atlantic trade majors to score goals.

The post-Bali narrative came into the open at a recent retreat convened by Switzerland. In a day-long event held outside Geneva to discuss what each member is willing to accept and what each is willing give, the US set the stage by declaring that the 2008 draft texts were unacceptable because their domestic constituencies did not see much merit in them. The US, then, went on to pound India and China for causing all the problems in agriculture by providing farm subsidies and denying real market access. The EU and other members at the retreat joined the US in declaring that the 2008 texts were irrelevant because of changed realities. Indeed, the negotiating tactic adopted by the big boys in the recent past is one based on naked belligerence, all aimed at the so-called emerging countries such as India, China, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia, and Argentina, among others. 

While India remained largely silent at the retreat without defending its interests, South Africa and China told the big boys how they pocketed all the gains in agriculture by securing a range of flexibilities without any payment. Since the election of Azevedo to the post of director general, Brazil has remained more or less silent on issues on which it once used to strongly articulate a common developing country position. In short, the ground is now set for embarking on a narrative set by the big boys, who have already tasted success at Bali, with active collaboration from the Centre William Rappard. 

That narrative has little to do with the evolving Doha mandates from 2001 to 2008. And the salient features of this new narrative include tariff-reduction commitments based on a simple formula in agriculture; turning a blind eye to reforming trade-distorting farm subsidies; a simple formula for tariff cuts with a request-and-offer approach for tariff elimination in some sectors; and pursuing global value chains by liberalising trade in core services in areas such as banking, asset management, insurance, logistics, multi-brand retail, courier services, telecommunications, and information and communication technology. Once the core elements of the TF agreement are stitched by the end of July, a new agenda will be foisted in September when members return from their summer break.

It will ensure that the Doha Round is successfully completed by shrinking the DDA to vanishing point and declaring a grand victory. It will be a round that does absolutely nothing to the grave distortions in the global trading system, yet will claim cosmetic results. Hey presto, you have done something, but in reality nothing. An emperor without clothes will once again rule the roost at the WTO.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

NFTC's Bill Reinsch's Take on Transparency

We are re-blogging a piece this week from National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch, who, as usual, is right-on when it comes to knowing and explaining operations in Washington.  He has been a long-time Congressional staff member and ranking Administration trade official.  Now he is a business executive.

We endorse this blog.   Jim Berger   Washington Trade Daily

Transparency in Trade Negotiations

“Transparency” has become one of the big issues in the current trade debate, both with respect to ongoing negotiations – Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – and what will be said about it in any Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation Congress might consider.

I confess to mixed feelings about it. I was a charter member of Common Cause years ago when “government in the sunshine” was a key demand of various activist groups. However, after a good number of years working on Capitol Hill, I dropped out of the organization because I had seen firsthand that sunshine is not all it’s cracked up to be. Rather than elevate and make more principled the legislative process, two things happened instead. First, Congressional sessions, whether they were committee markups, floor consideration, or conference committees, increasingly became opportunities to make grand polarizing statements rather than a chance to find common ground – playing to the cameras rather than trying to reach a compromise. Second, Members quickly realized that no deals were going to be cut that way, so they retreated to informal sessions in backrooms to do the same things they had been doing before in publicly announced sessions that were closed to the public.

Woodrow Wilson’s idea of “open covenants openly arrived at” was a dream then and has never been realized, nor should it be, in my view. (Since the NFTC was founded in a meeting with President Wilson and this is our Centennial year, I feel obligated to sneak in one of his quotes every time I can.) Most negotiations of any sort do not occur in public because to do so would undermine the positions of each side and make it more difficult than it already is for them to offer concessions. So, on the question of public transparency, I am unrepentantly in favor of closed doors. That does not preclude extensive debate once an agreement has been concluded and put before Congress, nor should it, but that debate is focused on the merits of the final product and not on tactical moves our negotiators may have made along the way.

Transparency for Congress, however, is something of a different matter. Both the U.S. Constitution and successive trade laws provide a key role for Congress in the development and implementation of trade policy, a role that Members cannot play unless they have adequate information about the state of a negotiation. For that reason, Congressional TPA laws have consistently included provisions requiring close consultation between the executive and legislative branches on trade policy and ongoing negotiations.

Even so, tensions remain. Part of that is institutional. Having served in both branches of government, I learned that for Congress, “consultation” means the Administration coming to them and saying, “We don’t know what to do. Tell us what to do.” For the executive branch, however, it means giving Congress two hours advance notice on the press release announcing the decision. Neither branch will ever be completely happy with any arrangement. Making the effort to come together on an arrangement, though, is essential, and both sides currently seem to be trying to do that. We in the business community should encourage them to keep at it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

USTR Froman, Congress and Batman

I haven’t done a blog in a while.  But this can’t wait.

I intended to write an essay on why President Obama said – albeit somewhat clumsily in his February State of the Union Address to Congress – that he wants special Trade Promotion Authority but hasn’t done anything about it.  A month before those remarks, high-level Administration officials unambiguously told WTD that the President and his crew – including the Commerce Department and the US Trade Representative in particular – would be helping out.

Since the State of the Union?  Zilch.

I decided to cut this short because Sen. Orrin Hatch, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, asked the same question in remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier this week.  Neither he nor I – nor the Administration for that matter – has any answers.

Give Mr. Hatch’s remarks a listen and then come back ( ).

My sentiments exactly, except that the very kindly Utah Mormon senator gives President Obama too much credit.

As for the chief trade agencies knowing much about trade or how Washington works, I can only provide two indicators from this week.  Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker – who says the country is “open for business” – told her Senate Appropriations subcommittee that she did not know the current status of the negotiations on the TransPacific Partnership and would have to get back to them.

The latest demonstration of ignorance came today in a brief press announcement from the USTR’s office which said – On Monday, April 14, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman will join employees at Atlas Devices in Boston to help open and tour a new state-of-the-art facility.  The company’s expansion, which is largely credited to its success in exporting, will allow Atlas Devices to expand its workforce to meet global demand.  This Boston-owned and operated company produces rescue and access solutions for government and military users worldwide, including a real-world version of Batman’s grappling tool.  The handheld Atlas Powered Rope Ascender can lift a fully-loaded soldier, firefighter, or safety inspector up the line, at up to 10 feet per second.  Their technology can also transform the average news helicopter into a disaster rescue vehicle in a moment’s notice.

Maybe the announcement was an April fool’s joke – two weeks late.

Even the “Caped Crusader” couldn’t get USTR Froman out of the mess he’s in with Congress – and an Atlas Powered Rope Ascender won’t help either.

What do you think?

Jim Berger

(ps – does “Boston-owned” make Atlas Devices a state-owned enterprise?)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What We're Covering This Week

This is shaping up to be a busy week, that begins with a “stocktaking” meeting between the two principals on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and ends with the Agriculture Department’s annual two-day outlook conference.
Here are some of the events we’ll be following:
             ●          On Monday, US Trade Representative Michael Froman and European Trade Commissioners Karel De Gucht begin a two-day stocktaking session on the status of the TTIP talks.
             ●          Also Monday, negotiators in Geneva begin the 5th round of negotiations on the Trade in Services Agreement.
             ●         Tuesday, the EU’s De Gucht discusses the latest developments on TTIP at the Atlantic Council.
             ●          At the same time, USTR Froman is at the Center for American Progress to talk about the Administration’s trade agenda.
             ●          Wednesday, Brazilian Ambassador Mauro Vieira speaks to the World Affairs Council.
             ●          Also Wednesday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz addresses a National Press Club luncheon.
             ●          On Thursday, the Agriculture Department kicks off its annual two-day outlook conference.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and USTR Froman are among the speakers.
             ●          The Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection holds an open meeting Thursday afternoon.
             ●          Friday, the USDA outlook conference concludes.

Notice to our Readers:  Washington Trade Daily has updated our website to provide some exciting new features, including direct links to our blog and weekly podcast.  "What We're Covering This Week" will now be available on our homepage at

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What We're Covering This Week

Here are some of the events we’ll be following this week:
             ●          On Tuesday, Japanese Ambassador Sasae talks about the Regional Cooperative Economic Partnership and the TransPacific Partnership at an event sponsored by the Brookings Institution.
             ●          Also Tuesday, the US-Egypt Business Council hosts Egyptian Minister of Trade and Industry Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour.
             ●          Thursday, the US International Trade Commission holds a public hearing on its investigation of Indian policies that discriminate against US trade and investment.
             ●          Friday, the Commerce Department’s environmental technologies trade advisory committee holds a teleconference meeting.

See you there!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What We're Covering This Week......

This week the Senate is expected to pass the final version of the long-awaited farm bill, sending the measure on to the President for approval.
Here are some of the stories we’ll be following this week:
             ●          Monday, the Senate debates the farm bill and is expected to hold a cloture vote to limit further debate Monday evening.
             ●          Also Monday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies sponsors a program on linking US business with global infrastructure opportunities.  US Trade and Development Agency Director Leocadia Zak is the speaker.
             ●          USTR Michael Froman travels to Chile and Peru to discuss the status of the TransPacific Partnership negotiations.
             ●          On Tuesday, CSIS holds a program on export control reform with speakers including Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Caroline Atkinson and Assistant Commerce Secretary for Export Administration Kevin Wolf.
             ●          House Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) talks trade at a program sponsored by Women in International Trade.
             ●          Iran sanctions will be a key topic at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the current negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program.  Witnesses include Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman.
             ●          Thursday, Women in International Trade and the American Bar Association sponsor a brown bag lunch program on US and European Union sanctions and implementation of the Iran Joint Action Plan.  Speakers including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Peter Harrell and Treasury Assistant Director for Foreign Assets Control Eytan Fisch.
             ●          On Friday, the National Cotton Council begins a three-day meeting.
             ●          The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace holds a discussion on US-India relations.  Speakers include Satinder Lambah, special envoy in the Office of the Prime Minister of India.
See you there!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Here's Washington Trade Daily's Friday afternoon podcast for January 31, 2014


déja vu – all over again or tpa-ja vu ?

Are Democrats all the same?   When it comes to the last two Presidents – absolutely YES!

Some thoughts on Tuesday’s State of the Union Address  –  of the 50 lines in the speech, two were devoted to trade – or about 0.4 percent, which is about how much attention the President devotes to thinking about trade.
A studious critic of free trade agreements told me after the speech that she was listening carefully.  After the President’s references to small business, she sneezed and missed the entire section on trade.
Another veteran trade journalist likened President Obama’s trade reference to a “drive-by” shooting.

As for Democrats being the same.  We came across two WTD articles from July 1998, when that other great champion of trade, Bill Clinton, was sitting at his White House desk.  (Doing what, we dare not say).

Washington Trade Daily    July 8, 1998
Sen. Lott Says Clinton `Blew It’ on Fast Track
President Clinton “blew it” when he passed up a chance earlier this week to throw his support behind an effort to get legislation renewing Presidential fast track trade negotiating authority past Congress this year (WTD, 7/1/98), Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) said yesterday.
The Republican Leader said he is frustrated by the White House’s lack of enthusiasm for his and House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga) proposal to push through fast track before the end of the Congressional session.  Sen. Lott said he is ready to move ahead on a package combining fast track (S 1269) with the Africa Economic Growth and Opportunity Act (S 778) (WTD, 7/1/98) and Caribbean Basin Initiative parity legislation (S 1278) (WTD, 7/1/98).  He also confirmed he is willing to have the Senate act first in hopes of boosting support for fast track in the House.  But President Clinton’s apparent lack of interest may de-rail that plan, he said.
“Clinton had the opportunity to say something strong about fast track and he didn’t,” Mr. Lott told WTD.   If the President is not willing to take the lead on fast track, the measure may be doomed for this year ‒ along with the Africa and CBI parity bills, he said.
There is no question that fast track would pass in the Senate by a strong margin if it were brought to the floor, Mr. Lott said, although he did not rule out the possibility that some Democrats might try to block a vote.  The Majority Leader noted, however, that the Senate has fallen far behind in its work on appropriations bills and if some real progress is not made on that front in the next week or two there may, indeed, not be enough time left in the session to do anything of substance.
On the House side, support for fast track is less certain.  But Mr. Gingrich last week announced he had found a way to squeeze out enough votes by amending the legislation to give the House and Senate Agriculture committees the same review status enjoyed by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.
Also commenting to reporters yesterday, Commerce Secretary William Daley said he did not see how a majority in the House could be garnered to pass fast track.  This is not the time to do it ‒ with just 38 days of the legislative session left and prior to an important mid-term Congressional election.
Mr. Daley suggested that Republicans were playing “politics” with the issue.
Congress, instead, should focus on fully funding the International Monetary Fund and complete action on a subSaharan African trade bill.

Washington Trade Daily   July 10, 1998
Clinton Still Backs Fast Track ‒ But Not Now
Getting fast track trade negotiating authority renewed for himself remains a top priority for the President, but the Administration does not intend to push for Congressional consideration of a bill (HR 2621, S 1269) until there are enough votes for passage (WTD, 7/6/98), US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said yesterday.
Testifying to the Senate Finance Committee on US-China relations (see related report this issue), the top US trade official said the Administration does not intend “to put a fast track bill up for sport.”  She admitted that the problem of gaining sufficient support is on the House side of the Capitol.
Ranking Democrat Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY) assured the witness that, indeed, the votes will not be “there” until the Administration commits to another effort at passing the bill, which stalled last year.  He said the Clinton Administration has the dubious honor of “stopping in its tracks” a 50-year evolution of a movement toward free trade that began in the first Roosevelt Administration in 1934.
Ms. Barshefsky downplayed the immediacy of fast track.  She told the committee that lack of the special trade negotiating authority has only affected one major trade initiative so far ‒ negotiation of a free trade agreement with Chile.  The rest of the Administration’s trade agenda ‒ including a start to the new round of multilateral trade negotiations, a formal beginning of Free Trade Area of the Americas talks and several sectoral agreements on basic telecommunications, financial services and information technology as well as similar efforts within the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum continue.
Nonetheless, Ms. Barshefsky agreed that nothing will be accomplished on fast track without Administration leadership.

Jim Berger

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Was it a dumb mistake – or was it a fatal mistake?  Maybe it was both, some well-clued-in trade types told WTD this week.
The ruckus caused by the “no-show” of US Trade Representative Michael Froman for an important Senate Finance Committee hearing on the long-anticipated Presidential trade negotiating authority bill continues to reverberate a week later, rather than fade out – as is usual for most faux-pas in Washington.
Reaction – almost to the person – was sharp from senators at the hearing last Thursday.  Ranking committee Republican Orrin Hatch said that unless the Administration gets involved in the process, the President may not get TPA at all.  Former USTR Robert Portman – a Finance member – put it more succinctly – “He should have been there.”
  Two other former USTRs this week said they were equally perplexed by the move – or non-move.  One told WTD that it goes way beyond political tactics and hits at the heart of US influence in the world economy.  Many foreigners outside the United States are watching closely to see what the Obama Administration does on TPA.
They both told WTD that they always jumped at the chance to testify to the oversight committee when it came to explaining trade priorities of their respective Administration – if the issue were important to their boss.  Maybe TPA is just not that important.
Told well before the meeting that the USTR would not attend, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus brushed off the criticism, telling WTD that the nonappearance was “no big deal” since everyone knows the Administration strongly supports TPA.
The official answer came from USTR.  Mr. Froman thought it more important for Congress to experience first-hand just how “stakeholders” view the issue.  Testifying in support that day were the chairman of Honeywell International, a New York state apple grower and an exercise and fitness equipment designer.  Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen said flatly that the United States cannot afford any more free trade agreements perpetuated by FPA.
How that’s for a roaring endorsement.
But while Finance was holding its hearing, USTR Froman was “working” House members behind closed doors.  Nobody is saying just what he was telling members.  The ambassador is spending days and nights on Capitol Hill, USTR is telling the press.
As for involvement at a higher-level, USTR Froman refused to tell WTD this week whether President Obama will call for TPA in next week’s State of the Union address.  It was not a difficult question since the President already made big news a couple of months ago when he said he wanted the special trade negotiating authority.  It is going to be needed to move ahead on the highly touted TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment partnership negotiations.
President Obama, himself, gave a hint in last week’s Saturday radio address that TPA may not warrant more than a mention at best in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.  He cited two important things that Congress can do to create jobs in the country – getting immigration under control and building new physical infrastructure.  Neither are anything the Obama Administration or Congress is capable of dealing with.
Trade was not a factor in his brief Saturday remarks, but it sparked a comment from one former USTR to rhetorically ask WTD whether the Administration knows basic “economics 101.”  Our answer – “It doesn’t seem that way.”
Whether the President knows it or not, how many words and how much emphasis are given to TPA in the State of the Union will likely seal its fate.
Not getting TPA essentially means no US jobs-creating Asia-Pacific trade agreement – and puts into deep question the future of the TTIP.

(P.S. – Does conducting business one-on-one with House Democrats behind closed doors bolster USTR’s insistence that it is the most “transparent” agency in government ever?  Maybe I’m just too dumb to understand.
All I know is that the last time a USTR met “privately” and “one-on-one” with House members to support TPA, it resulted in a plethora of Administration promises – including secret deals involving federal money allocated for bridge building (literally) to promises to keep open Agriculture Department facilities in Congressional districts.  That is something we in Washington call real “pork.”

We’ll see.

Jim Berger

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Here's What We're Covering This Week

Congressional lawmakers are back in their home districts this week, but the nation’s mayors will be here in Washington to hear from President Obama and top cabinet officials, including US Trade Representative Mike Froman.
            Monday is a federal holiday here in Washington.
             ●          On Tuesday, the Atlantic Council sponsors a program on relations between France and the United States with speakers including French Ambassador Francois Delattre.
             ●          Brazilian Ambassador Mauro Vieira also speaks on Tuesday, to the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.
             ●          Wednesday, the National Conference of Mayors begins a three-day meeting.  USTR Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker are among the speakers on Wednesday.
             ●          Meanwhile, Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler speaks at a conference on the US-Australia alliance sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
             ●          On Thursday, USTR Froman heads to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he is expected to discuss the World Trade Organization and ongoing TransPacific Partnership trade negotiations.
             ●          On Friday, Acting Deputy USTR Cutler speaks to the National Conference of Mayors.

See you there!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What We're Covering This Week......

Congress is back and now in the early stages of looking at legislation introduced last week to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority.
Here are some of the events we’ll be following:
●          On Monday, Women in International Trade sponsors an off-the-record program on TPA with House Ways and Means Chief Trade Counsel Angela Ellard.
             ●          The Hudson Institute sponsors a program on US-Taiwan economic relations with speakers including William Liu of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.
             ●          Japanese Minister for Regulatory Reform Tomomi Inada speaks at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
             ●          On Tuesday, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy addresses the US Chamber of Commerce, where he is expected to discuss the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership among other issues.
             ●          The Heritage Foundation releases its 2014 Index of Economic Freedom.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) kicks off the discussion.
             ●          Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere holds a hearing on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which turns 20 this year.
             ●          Also on the Hill, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China holds a hearing to examine China’s compliance with the World Trade Organization and other international agreements.
             ●          The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of R. Gil Kerlikowske to be the next Customs Commissioner.
             ●          Also Wednesday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies sponsors a program on digital trade.
             ●          On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee officially kicks off Congressional debate on whether the President should have Trade Promotion Authority, holding the first hearing on the bill introduced last week by Chairman Max Baucus, ranking Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich).
             ●          The US Chamber of Commerce hosts Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
             ●          Women in International Trade sponsors a program on South Africa’s trade relations with the United States and European Union.
See you there!