Obama’s Selection of Kirk for USTR Disappointing

December 19, 2008


Obama has announced his selection of Ron Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas and a supporter of NAFTA, as his U.S. Trade Representative – America’s head trade negotiator.  Earlier, he offered the job to Xavier Becerra, congressman from California, but it seems that Becerra declined, unwilling to give up his new leadership role in Congress. 

Based upon the information provided in this linked article, I find the selection of Kirk to be very disappointing.  Kirk will be just another in a long line of Trade Representatives who foolishly believes that he can open markets for American products in a way that benefits America. 

 President-elect Barack Obama will name former mayor Ron Kirk the post of U.S. trade representative on Friday, thrusting the pro-trade former Dallas mayor into a sensitive balancing act between unions and business interests.

John Murphy, vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, lauded Mr. Kirk’s record of support for free trade and its benefits in Texas, though he isn’t known nationally.

“Trade has been one of the only bright spots for the U.S. economy, and the Obama team is going to need every tool in its tool box,” he said.

Anyone who believes that trade has been a bright spot for the U.S. is easily identifiable as a free trade cheerleader – someone who ballyhooes exports while sweeping imports under the rug – all in an effort to obscure the damage that’s been done by the enormous trade deficit.  That such a person would think highly of the Kirk nomination is a bad sign. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Kirk would probably spend much of his time overseas hammering out trade deals and persuading foreign leaders to drop trade barriers, curb movie piracy and open new markets for U.S. goods.

This is exactly the approach to trade that has yielded a $9.2 trillion trade deficit since 1975.  Trade barriers never, ever get dropped and “opening new markets” always begins with opening America’s market first.  And that’s as far as the trade deal ever gets.  Our trading partners aren’t fools and have suckered us into horrible deals for decades. 

More reason for concern:

As Dallas mayor from 1995 to 2001, Mr. Kirk touted free trade. In a series of overseas trips, he pitched the Dallas area as an ideal trading partner.

This is one Obama appointment that I hope isn’t confirmed:

The top Republican on the Senate panel that will confirm the next trade representative, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, questioned Mr. Kirk’s qualifications. Aides noted that while most of Mr. Obama’s Cabinet picks have deep experience in their fields, Mr. Kirk has little background on trade issues.

Kirk seems like an odd pick, since Becerra, Obama’s first choice, was more in line with Obama’s espoused concerns about the role of trade in the demise of our economy.  Obama had promised an overhaul of NAFTA.  Is he backing away from that commitment by nominating Kirk? 

Mr. Kirk’s chances for the job got a boost Tuesday when the top contender, Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, said he would stay in Congress.

Mr. Obama reportedly offered the Californian the job two weeks ago. But Mr. Becerra recently won a House Democratic leadership post, and was apparently loath to give that up after concluding – as he told Los Angeles-based La Opinion –that trade “would not be priority No. 1, and perhaps, not even priority No. 2 or 3” for Mr. Obama.

This is all terribly disappointing.  Kirk looks like just one more free trade stooge who will leave trade negotiators in China, Japan, Korea and Germany rolling in the aisles with laughter when he leaves.

Obama Offers Xavier Becerra Job as U.S. Trade Representative

December 4, 2008


This could be some very, very good news!  In the linked article, Bloomberg reports that Xavier Becerra, Democratic representative from California, has been offered the job of U.S. Trade Representative by Barack Obama.  I admit to knowing nothing about Becerra but, if what Bloomberg has to say about his stand on U.S. trade policy and his voting record on trade deals is correct, this is indeed very good news. 

Becerra, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade policy, said in a 2005 interview that he regretted voting for Nafta in 1993, and cited the problems with the trade accord as a reason he helped lead the opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement that year.

He also voted against a free-trade agreement with Oman, using the example of the record U.S. trade deficit with China as a reason to oppose it.

“It’s become very obvious that our system for devising trade agreements so very important to this country’s functioning around the world, has not only broken, but is broken completely,” Becerra said on the House floor, according to a statement from his office in July 2006.

If true, not only is the appointment of Becerra great news, but it speaks volumes about Obama’s plans for U.S. trade policy.  Finally, after decades of presidents and trade representatives who were suckers for primitive 18th century theories about free trade, it seems we have someone who has done an objective analysis of the results and has drawn conclusions based on facts. 

As soon as I find an address for Representative Becerra, I’ll send him a complimentary copy of Five Short Blasts.  This is something I’ll be watching very closely and will keep you posted.