National Press Club

Trade Rep. Kirk Pushes Obama's Free Trade Agenda

March 10, 2010 | By Gil Klein |

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Expanding international trade, especially with growing markets in the Pacific and East Asia, will help revive the U.S. economy and should be embraced by the American people, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the Club March 9.

“In the last quarter of 2009, some economists believe that exports alone accounted for more than half of all U.S. economic growth,” Kirk said at a Luncheon.

In the last quarter, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 5.7 percent, he said, but U.S. exports “grew at a clip of 18 percent.”

But he acknowledged that selling the American public on new free trade agreements will require restoring America’s shell-shocked workers’ “belief in the wisdom and the value of our trade policy.”

President Obama has called for doubling the amount of U.S. international trade in the next five years, a goal that many trade experts said would be difficult to achieve.

Kirk called for U.S. support in helping the World Trade Organization to conclude the Doha Round of development talks that “provokes meaningful market access for all members of the WTO as well as enhancing the economic development of many of the world’s poorest communities.”

He said the administration also is seeking to resolve outstanding issues in three pending bilateral free trade agreements it inherited from the Bush administration – Colombia, Panama and Korea.

“They represent great market opportunities for our farmers, our ranchers our entrepreneurs, our manufacturers,” he said.

But he said moving those agreements through Congress, where many Democrats oppose free trade agreements, will require careful political timing.

To alleviate opposition, he said, the administration is working to enforce existing free trade agreements to stop dumping of foreign products in the United States, open foreign markets that remain closed, dissuade foreign countries from devising new barriers to U.S. products, and stop the intellectual property theft of American-produced products.

With stiff opposition among American labor unions for trade agreements, Kirk said the administration is committed to upholding international labor standards.

“When our trading partners violate labor obligations in our trade agreements and deny foreign workers their international right to organize,” he said, “this not only hurts those workers, but frankly tilts the playing field away from American businesses.”