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The confirmation hearing for Ron Kirk, President Obama's choice for U.S. Trade Representative, is now scheduled for March 5th. When Kirk goes before the Senate Finance Committee, we hope that the senators will probe him on trade policy and development policy -- specifically, how they intersect and how they could be better coordinated. Currently, trade and development policy are often dealt with as separate issues by the U.S. government. While it is widely accepted that trade is an important tool of development policy and trade policies have major implications for developing countries, the U.S. Trade Representative generally approaches trade negotiations in virtually the same way, no matter the income level of the trading partner.

Take a look at the U.S. free trade agreement with Australia, which has a per capita income or more than $43,000, and the U.S. free trade agreement for Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR). Nicaragua, one of the parties to the CAFTA agreement, has a per capita income of less than $950, yet the provisions of the two agreements are very similar.

In the World Trade Organization context, there is a tradition of providing "special and differential treatment" for developing countries. But in the last round of trade talks, U.S. negotiators pushed for rules requiring developing countries (eventually) to adopt intellectual property protections that were as strong as those in rich countries, even though most economic analysis suggested that this would not be in the interests of poorer countries that lack innovative activities of their own to protect.

Of course it is the role of the U.S. Trade Representative, indeed all government departments, to protect and promote U.S. interests. But prosperity and stability in developing countries are also in our interest, as President Obama declared in his global development strategy and in his address to Congress last week:

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world's.

If it is indeed true that the "the security and well-being of each and every American is tied to the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders," then U.S. trade policy should reflect that reality as well.

With that, here are some questions that we hope Congress will consider asking Mr. Kirk:

  1. Given the enormous stress the global and U.S. economy is under right now, how will you ensure that the United States does not respond with beggar-thy-neighbor trade measures that make things worse for developing countries but instead continue to promote prosperity and political stability in developing countries?
  2. How will the U.S. Trade Representative take into account not only U.S. corporate interests in negotiations but also broader American interests such as the public health implications of forcing developing country partners to adopt strong intellectual property protection policies or the economic and political stability implications of forgoing capital controls?
  3. What steps will you take to complete the ongoing round of World Trade Organizations negotiations and when should Congress vote on legislation providing limited trade promotion authority?
  4. Will you and the administration consider providing permanent, full market access for the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries, i.e. those with low per person incomes and total national incomes of less than $100 billion, which would have minimal impact on U.S industries, as proposed by the Center for Global Development?

    That's our list. What other questions would you like to see the Senators ask Kirk next week?

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.