No ‘deal fever’ in Obama administration: Ron Kirk

March 10th, 2009 - 11:30 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 10 (DPA) Ron Kirk, President Barack Obama’s nominee for US trade representative, pledged support for free trade Monday but suggested there was no hurry to get new agreements approved in the midst of a global economic downturn.
In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Kirk said that the incoming Obama administration had launched a comprehensive review of US free-trade deals, including those still pending with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

But with the US in a deep recession that has cost more than four million jobs since December 2007, Kirk suggested that Obama was wary of new trade agreements and would focus on enforcing existing laws for the near future.

“I do not come to this job with what I have called in some of our meetings ‘deal fever’,” Kirk said. “We’re not gonna do deals just for the sake of doing so.”

Kirk made clear that the South Korean free-trade deal was “unfair” in its current form and would have to be renegotiated. He was less direct in his comments on the two South American deals, which have stalled in the Senate, but suggested the Panama agreement was closest to being ratified.

The World Bank Sunday said that global trade is heading toward its steepest decline in 80 years, as many countries have raised barriers to foreign products in response to confront sharp downturns in their domestic economies.

Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, said that free trade would continue to play a “key role” in the US and global economies. He echoed Obama’s comments during the presidential campaign that the US should seek a “level playing field” while refuting protectionism.

“I believe in trade and will work to expand it, but I also know that not all Americans are winning from it and that our trading partners are not always playing by the rules,” Kirk said.

Obama’s own stance on trade shifted in the presidential campaign from more protectionist language during the centre-left Democratic Party primaries to a more open policy in the general election. He pledged early on to reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico but softened his stance in the general election.

Kirk would not comment on the administration’s plans until its review of trade policy is complete.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley criticized Obama for sending “mixed signals” on trade policy at a time when global markets “can ill-afford such uncertainty”.

Kirk is one of Obama’s last top appointments yet to be approved by the Senate. Consideration of Kirk was was delayed over questions about his failure to pay income taxes on lecturing fees, but the problem was not expected to derail his nomination.

Obama’s choice of Kirk, who is considered a moderate on free trade, disappointed some activists on the left wing of the Democratic Party, which is closely aligned with organised labour.

Senator John Cornyn, a member of the centre-right Republican Party, supports the nomination of Kirk, noting that he “may not be the first choice of those who fail to acknowledge the benefits of free trade … but he’s Obama’s first choice”.

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