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Obama's Nominees For Trade Representative And Labor Secretary

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

President-elect Barack Obama has nominated as his chief trade negotiator a dedicated free trader with a reputation as a competent manager who has demonstrated an ability to resolve contentious issues.

Ron Kirk — a lawyer and former mayor of Dallas and an unsuccessful candidate for the US Senate — is not widely known in Washington trade circles, although he has been a strong supporter of free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). During the presidential campaign, Obama called for NAFTA to be renegotiated in order to get a better shake for US workers, but that may be easier said than done in view of opposition support for NAFTA from the other trading partners — Mexico, Canada and the  many US corporations  involved in NAFTA trade.

FTAs with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, negotiated by the Bush administration, are awaiting consideration by Congress, and the president-elect, Democratic leadership in Congress and organized labor have voiced their strong opposition to the Colombian and South Korea pacts. Some US textile manufacturers support the Colombian agreement, but they are opposed to the one with South Korea. In spite of his personal strong support for free trade, Kirk can be expected to help implement President-elect Obama’s cautious and conditioned approach to trade.

Obama’s nominee for labor secretary, Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., has strong ties to organized labor and in her four years in Congress has gained a 93-percent favorable rating by the AFL-CIO. She is one of the strongest advocates in Congress for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would utilize a card check rather than a secret ballot in union-organizing elections. That measure is strongly opposed by US textile manufacturers.

Still to be named are the chief textile negotiator and the deputy assistant secretary of commerce for textiles and apparel.  Textile interests in Washington are pressing Obama to elevate the textile negotiator’s job to ambassador level, which would place him or her on an equal plain with those he or she would have to deal with in other countries. The deputy assistant secretary of commerce for textiles and apparel serves as chairman of the inter-agency Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements.

January 6, 2009