Stronger Trade Policies From Obama’s Trade Representative

In Pittsburgh today, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that the Obama administration will take a more aggressive approach to supporting American industrial workers through greater protection of labor rights and more aggressive monitoring of overseas trade practices.

In a speech unveiling new initiatives for trade enforcement, Ambassador Kirk promised that his office would begin “consistently monitoring” foreign trade practices and would identify “technical barriers to trade…and tackle them head on”:

Ron Kirk“I can tell you with no reservations: the Obama Administration is both willing and able to enforce our trade agreements. American workers deserve no less…Today, on behalf of President Obama, I am here to affirm this administration’s commitment to trade enforcement.”

Kirk’s speech took place at the Mon Valley Steel Works in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a plant that has been producing steel since 1875. In response to Kirk’s remarks, United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard said that U.S. industy has ”had to bear too much of the burden of foreign unfair, predatory and protectionist trade practices. Other nations have closed their markets to our products while they have enjoyed virtually unfettered access to the U.S. market.”

China, with whom the U.S. suffered a record bilateral trade deficit that reached $268 billion in 2008, is a prime culprit. In addition to poor labor standards and lax environmental practices, China employs a number of illegal trade practices, including currency manipulation, dumping, subsidies, and non-tariff barriers. China’s ongoing predatory trade practices have cost the U.S. more than 2.3 million jobs since 2001.

Gerard has made frequent mention of China’s illegal trade practices and praised Kirk’s ”commitment to enforcing the rules and fighting for the interests of working people”:

“Enforcing the rules is an essential ingredient to ensuring that our trade policies actually work to create jobs, opportunity and economic growth. When America stands up, our trading partners open up. That’s the way it should be.”

In a preview to his speech, Kirk discussed U.S. trade policy this week in an interview with Wall Street Journal reporters Bob Davis and Greg Hitt. He was straightforward in his assessment of a troubled U.S. manufacturing sector that has lost 40,000 plants in the less 10 years and seen more than 4 million factory workers lose their jobs.

Kirk noted the importance of “creating market access” for U.S. manufacturers and emphasized the importance of ”solving these challenges sooner rather than later, with a recognition that time is a commodity that a lot of our businesses don’t have right now.”

AAM Director Scott Paul, who will testify before a U.S. Senate Committe tomorrow on the urgency of rescuing U.S. manufacturing, called Kirk’s speech “refreshing.” In a statement, he noted:

“I commend Ambassador Kirk for his commitment to trade enforcement. This initiative, coupled with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke’s comments on the unsustainable nature of our trade deficit with China, gives me hope that we will see a new direction on trade. This would be welcome news for those U.S. manufacturers and their employees who have seen a flood of imports flow into our market, often aided by subsidies and other unfair practices by their governments. The success of Ambassador Kirk’s efforts are going to be measured on a daily basis, and President Obama’s determination on the Section 421 case on imported consumer tires from China in September will be one of the first major tests.”

AAM has previously emphasized the importance of “Enforcing the Rules“– with strong trade laws serving as the foundation of a sound American trade policy.

On the industrial side of things, companies like U.S. Steel have also sought stronger enforcement of U.S. trade law, especially on dumping and subsidies. In a recent comment, U.S. Steel noted that, “due to the persistence of dumping and subsidization in our sector, that remains the steel industry’s highest trade-related priority.”

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