Thursday, December 17, 2009

A new model for trade agreements is U.S. aim, starting in trans-Pacific

The Obama administration is starting to move U.S. trade policy in a new direction – very new, or so it appears from the words of the top U.S. trade official, Ron Kirk.

President Obama will start the ball rolling soon. He intends to enter into negotiations for an Asia-Pacific trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Kirk announced in a press statement and in letters to Congressional leaders December 14.

The goal is “a new kind of trade agreement for the 21st century, bringing home the jobs and economic opportunity we want all our trade deals to deliver,” Ambassador Kirk said in his press announcement.

He emphasized that USTR would intensify the already-begun consultation with congress to develop negotiating objectives seeking “the highest economic benefit for America’s workers, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and service providers” and reflecting “our shared values on labor, the environment, and other key issues.”

In separate letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Kirk reiterated the theme that successful conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations requires “a high-standard, 21st century agreement,” one that “updates the U.S. approach to traditional trade issues. “

Among the issues he cited that need updating were:

-- “environmental protection and conservation, transparency, workers rights and protection, and development.”
-- “new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to increase exports to the region.”
-- U.S. firms’ participation in “production and supply chains in order to encourage investment and production in the United States.”

In concluding his two-page letter to the Congressional leaders, Kirk wrote:

“The TPP Agreement provides an opportunity to develop a new model for U.S. trade negotiations and a new regional approach that focuses more on jobs, enhances U.S. competitiveness, and ensures that the benefits of our trade agreements are shared by all Americans.”
U.S. negotiating partners under TPP so far include only seven countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Others countries are expected to join soon. China is the wild card.

Initial negotiations are already scheduled to begin in March. Negotiations – oops, consultations -- with Congress and within Congress on priorities are already underway.

USTR is seeking public input on the “direction, focus, and content” of the TPP negotiations. A new webpage, http://www.ustr.gov/tpp is already operational with information for the public.

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