Daily Times (Pakistan)
April 26, 2009
www.dailytimes.com.pk

WASHINGTON: US Trade Representative Ron Kirk will meet on Monday with counterparts from the United States’ top two trading partners, Canada and China, and with Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen.

The back-to-back talks occur as a number of foreign officials appear in Washington this weekend for the annual spring meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Kirk, who has been in his job for only a month, is under pressure from Congress to make progress in reducing the large and persistent US trade deficit with China, which hit a record $266.3 billion in 2008.

In his first major policy speech this week, Kirk promised to use “all of the tools” at his disposal, including bringing possible cases at the World Trade Organization, to ensure that China and other trading partners play by the rules.

His meeting with Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming comes just before US and Chinese companies sign contracts that on Monday the US Chamber of Commerce says are worth billions of dollars to American companies.

Kirk meets first on Monday with Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day, whose country accounted for 17.6 percent of total US trade last year, or $597 billion. That was ahead of China’s 12.0 percent, or $409.2 billion.

Earlier this week, Kirk said he believed the United States’ could accomplish President Barack Obama’s goal of updating the North American Free Trade Agreement without formally reopening negotiations on the pact.

Both Canada and Mexico welcomed that statement, after Obama’s often harsh criticism of the 15-year-old agreement during last year’s campaign.

Kirk’s last meeting on Monday with Tareen comes amid growing US concerns about Taliban influence in Pakistan after the government agreed to impose Islamic law in the Swat Valley.

The Obama administration strongly supports proposed legislation to create jobs and fight extremism in both Pakistan and Afghanistan by waiving US duties on goods made in specially designated zones, Kirk said on Thursday.

Pakistan has pressed in the past for a free trade agreement with the United States, but Kirk said the Obama administration would only pursue new trade deals with bigger countries. Obama will meet with the presidents of both Pakistan and Afghanistan on May 6-7. (Reuters)

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