First, congratulations. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the US Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Michael Froman, previously the president’s top international economic adviser in the White House, as the new US Trade Representative (93-4). Ambassador Froman will have his plate full, with the “mega-regional” negotiations in the Pacific and with the European Union. But I also hope he won’t forget “working to foster development through trade,” as he pledged at his swearing-in.
That could be a challenge. In this policy memo, I put forward two initiatives that would directly help poor and vulnerable countries while also giving a boost to multilateralism: duty-free, quota-free (DFQF) market access for least developed countries (LDCs) and food aid reform. (My fortune cookie the other day said that I “love challenge”—that must be why I continue to push for DFQF market access and food aid reform. Ambassador Froman must also love a challenge or he wouldn’t be taking on the USTR job.)
In an annex to the memo, I explain a pragmatic proposal for extending duty-free, quota-free market access to all LDCs while shielding existing African clothing exports under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Exempting just 32 detailed tariff lines from the initiative for competitive exporters would protect 80 percent of African clothing exports and still allow half or more of US imports from Bangladesh and Cambodia to enter duty-free. This initiative would also open new opportunities for the other Asian LDCs with little preferential access to the US market, including Afghanistan, Laos, Nepal, and Yemen. In Bangladesh’s case, the government and industry would need to show that they are “taking steps” to improve working conditions in order to be eligible.
With the defeat of the House farm bill on June 20, prospects for food aid reform this year are up in the air. An amendment by Representatives Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY) that would have allowed the president to implement something close to his proposed food aid reform was defeated, but the vote was closer than many of us expected (203-220). Indeed, it was closer than on the final, full farm bill, which went down 195-234. Gawain Kripke of Oxfam America explains why this is progress here.
Ambassador Froman should push for food aid reform, whether in a renewed farm bill debate or during the appropriations process, and for LDC market access because those achievements would give him leverage at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in December. Right now, things are not looking so good for that meeting, but reinvigorated leadership from our new US Trade Representative could make all the difference. Congratulations Ambassador Froman, and good luck.