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"Today, the Administration has indicated its readiness to begin technical discussions Thursday morning with key congressional staff on the draft implementing bills … for the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama."
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Press Release, May 4, 2011
Last month, President Obama laid out a bold pledge to consolidate and reorganize the federal government in support of a more competitive America. If you missed that line, it was right before his joke about salmon being regulated by different agencies depending on whether they’re in fresh or salt water. While President Obama specifically referenced a dozen agencies working on export promotion, it’s difficult to gauge whether the consolidation wave will touch all of them or just a lucky few. Those talks are happening behind closed doors. So, we’re left trying to read the tea leaves. Base
Last week Secretary of State Clinton, U.S. Trade Representative Kirk, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, and other U.S. government officials were in Nairobi at the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, making new and improved promises about the commitment of the United States to African development. I was in Nairobi last week too to moderate our fifth consultation meeting for the CGD Global Trade Preference Reform Working Group.
The economic crisis is hitting the world’s poorest countries through falling trade and commodity prices. This column argues that the US should respond by further opening its market to exports from small, poor economies. That would not only provide an additional stimulus to those economies but also strengthen US global leadership, give a boost to the Doha Round, and serve broader US national interests by helping to promote political stability in some very shaky parts of the world.
“The World’s poorest developing nations have a special place in the Obama trade agenda.”
-US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Georgetown University, 29 April 2009
While welcome, it is not yet clear how Ambassador Kirk’s words, and the President’s commitment, will be turned into action – and the need for action is urgent.
Would a “Crisis Round” of trade talks launched at the London Summit next week be a useful mechanism for averting a further beggar-thy-neighbor protectionism? My colleague Arvind Subramanian and his frequent co-author, World Bank economist Aaditya Mattoo, think so. They argued for such a move in an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal Asia earlier this week (A Crisis Calls for a Crisis Round):
Based on the testimony of USTR-designate Ron Kirk this week before the Senate Finance Committee - brief though it was - the Obama Administration is moving in an entirely different direction than we have seen over the last eight years. The concept of a "progressive trade agenda for America," though as yet undefined, certainly suggests that the administration will be looking at the global economy from a very different perspective.