As the article below demonstrates, we now have further proof free trade agreements will have a low priority in the Obama Administration. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has just turned down an offer to be the new United States Trade Representative.
In an interview with editorial board of “La Opinion” he said “My worry was how much weight this position would hold, and I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be priority number one, and it might not be number two or three.”
Becerra is a moderate Democrat on trade and was not a perfect choice. He backpedaled on his support for NAFTA, and vigorously opposed CAFTA. At various times during the campaign the President-elect sounded like a protectionist, especially during the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. Obama has already come out against the pending Colombia and South Korea free trade pacts, but hopefully he will support the Panama deal.
The new Administration’s lack of enthusiasm for free trade agreements is disappointing. Our trade with Canada and Mexico has increased by 8.8% this year but during the campaign Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA. The Doha round of global trade talks have careened completely off course, and they will never recover without American leadership.This is unfortunate because in the second quarter of this year two-thirds of America’s economic growth was related to trade.
The USTR job is now going to former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a strong free trade advocate. Despite the disappointing campaign promises, trade advocates are not writing off the Obama Administration. The most encouraging sign is the appointment of Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) as the new Commerce Secretary.
Richardson was NAFTA’s big booster when he served in the House of Representatives, and when he ran for president earlier this year he was the only candidate who did not call for a renegotiation of the free-trade pact. The new White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, served as Bill Clinton’s point man on NAFTA in 1993. Other strong free trade advocates are Timothy Geithner, the new Treasury Secretary and Lawrence Summers, who will be the head of the National Economic Council.
Obama’s commitment to trade reform thrown into question
By Daniel Dombey in Washington, December 18 2008
“Financial Times”, UK
Xavier Becerra, a member of the House of Representatives from Los Angeles, indicated he had decided not to take the post because of doubts over whether trade policy would be among the new administration’s priorities.
“My concern was [over] how much weight the position would have and what priority it would have,” he told La Opinion, a Spanish-language US newspaper. “I reached the conclusion that it would not be priority number one and perhaps not even priority two or three.” Mr Becerra’s words could further damp already low expectations that the new administration will focus on trade policy.
During the campaign, in comments he has since sought to play down, Mr Obama suggested he would seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and has maintained his objections to the as-yet unratified US trade deal with Colombia. In recent days, Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation, has ditched plans for a ministerial meeting this year to seek a breakthrough on the Doha round of trade talks, while Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, has warned of the risks of growing international protectionism. A statement issued by Mr Becerra’s office added he would focus on his role in the Democratic leadership of the House.