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US Trade Nominee Emphasizes Enforcement

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

At his confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Finance Committee, US Trade Representative designee Ron Kirk underscored many of the changes called for by President Barack Obama and placed particular emphasis on the importance of enforcement of trade agreements and the need for US trading partners to play by the rules. He also said labor rights and environmental protection will be elements in existing and new trade agreements.

Saying he does not come to the job with "deal fever," Kirk pointed toward a move away from the Bush administration's free trade agenda, saying "we're not going to do deals just for the sake of doing something."

Kirk said  he would use all the diplomatic tools at his disposal to address  China trade issues, saying China should be encouraged to rely less on exports and more on domestic consumption.

Kirk plans to move forward with free trade agreements negotiated by the Bush administration with Colombia, Panama and South Korea; but he said there are obstacles in the way of each one. He promised a comprehensive review of the agreements and to work with Congress to remove those obstacles. US textile manufacturers support the Colombia and Panama pacts, but they have major problems with the South Korea agreement. With respect to the South Korea agreement, Kirk said, "The president has said, and I agree the agreement as it is just simply is not fair, and if we don't get it right, we'll be prepared to step away."

Kirk said the Obama administration will seek the "strongest possible enforcement of existing rules and increase the transparency of current and future trade agreements."

March 10, 2009