President Obama’s Trade Policy Agenda


On March 1st President Obama released his annual report to Congress on the President’s Trade Policy Agenda for the current year and the U.S. Trade Agreements Program activities for the previous year as required under the Trade Act of 1974. These reports are prepared by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and provide a comprehensive review of trade policy activities and objectives of the Administration.


The Administration’s main objectives are to “open world markets and enforce our rights under trade agreements” through science-based standards, protection of intellectual property and removal of unfair advantages for manufacturing in other countries. The value of imports to consumers is also recognized, “Imports also offer U.S. consumers variety and affordability as they look to get the most out of their household budgets.” The report also highlights the role of private businesses, “As we have marshaled public resources for the National Export Initiative, we have recognized that America’s private sector is our country’s primary driver for innovation and job growth.”

The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was the first policy issue mentioned with plans to continue to work closely with the House and Senate to secure approval as soon as possible. The Administration also continues to work on resolving issues in the Colombia and Panama FTAs. Potential agreements by Panama and Colombia with the EU and Canada are mentioned as reasons to move as quickly as possible on these agreements.

More space was devoted to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA talks with eight other Pacific Rim countries which are viewed by the Administration as “the most promising vehicle for achieving economic integration across the Asia-Pacific region.” Asia already has 180 agreements in force, 20 waiting to be implemented and nearly 70 under negotiations. “Full engagement” is considered necessary to enhance the competitive position of U.S. exporters. The agreement is expected to deepen the links to Asia-Pacific production and distribution networks, increase the compatibility of regulatory systems and ensure respect for labor rights and environmental protection. The plan is to make swift progress this year with the first negotiating session held in February and four more planned for the year.

The most straightforward statements in the agenda were made on the Doha Round of WTO trade policy negotiations. The U.S. is committed to working to complete the round in 2011, but the report made clear the expectations that advanced developing countries have to become more engaged. Several sentences were used to give the same message, “In a negotiation in which the United States is being asked to significantly cut tariffs on all industrial and agricultural goods, we are asking these emerging economies to accept responsibility commensurate with their expanded roles in the global economy.” Tariff cutting should also focus on specific industries where tariffs remain generally high. With 2011 seen as a year of decision, the Obama Administration has put pressure on advanced developing countries to make the next move.

The Administration continues to support negotiations for Russia to join the WTO, but admits it is “a trading partner with which we face significant challenges.” The U.S. would clearly gain if Russia joined and adhered to WTO rules. Some bilateral issues were resolved in 2010 and Russia has agreed to lower many tariffs. The Administration will ask Congress this year to end the application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and make Russia eligible for Normal Trade Relationship status and qualified to have the support of the U.S. to join the WTO.

The Administration began in 2010 and will continue in 2011working with trading partners, with and without FTAs, to further open markets through regulatory reforms. With Canada an agreement was reached under the WTO Government Procurement Agreement for U.S. companies to bid on Canadian provincial and territorial government contracts. Mexico agreed to U.S. and Canadian standards on electrical and electronic products. Efforts in 2011 will include the U.S.-Mexico trucking dispute. Last month the first CAFTA-DR Free Trade Ministers meeting focused on implementation of the agreement and expansion of benefits. The Transatlantic Economic Council of the U.S. and the EU has focused on non-tariff barriers to trade through regulatory cooperation initiatives. They are also looking at third-country markets where common problems exist. Similar efforts are being made with Asian trade partners. These efforts will never make news headlines, but are essential to achieving further benefits of increased trade.

Receiving input on trade policies from stakeholders and members of the House and Senate is viewed by the Administration as a key strength and something they will build on in 2011. That portion of the report included a key sentence, “We will seek appropriate Congressional approval as necessary for the authorities to move forward with new and forward-looking pacts, such as TPP.” Trade Promotion Authority that provided specific authority for the Executive branch to negotiate free trade agreements with input from the House and Senate and an up or down vote without amendments expired in 2007. The TPP talks have progressed without formal negotiating authority, but at some point that will need to be addressed.

As with all agendas, it’s following through that is the hard part. Recent comments out of Geneva indicate the Doha Round discussions are not developing the speed needed to reach a final agreement this year. TPP is a critical effort, but the conclusion of talks will likely occur in 2012 when action will undoubtedly be delayed until after the U.S. elections. The Korea agreement has its own momentum, but Columbia and Panama could be derailed by politics.

The Obama trade team sounds as if it now has the momentum to carry its agenda forward. Trade policy is influenced by political decisions just like any other public policy. The political winds appear to be blowing in favor of trade policy after two years of slow sailing. The Administration needs to push their agenda while the political climate is more favorable.

Ross Korves

Ross Korves

Ross Korves served Truth about Trade & Technology, before it became Global Farmer Network, from 2004 – 2015 as the Economic and Trade Policy Analyst.

Researching and analyzing economic issues important to agricultural producers, Ross provided an intimate understanding regarding the interface of economic policy analysis and the political process.

Mr. Korves served the American Farm Bureau Federation as an Economist from 1980-2004. He served as Chief Economist from April 2001 through September 2003 and held the title of Senior Economist from September 2003 through August 2004.

Born and raised on a southern Illinois hog farm and educated at Southern Illinois University, Ross holds a Masters Degree in Agribusiness Economics. His studies and research expanded internationally through his work in Germany as a 1984 McCloy Agricultural Fellow and study travel to Japan in 1982, Zambia and Kenya in 1985 and Germany in 1987.

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