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President’s Trade Agenda Policy Addresses FTAs, Stresses Workers’ Rights
March 5, 2009


The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) recently posted to its website President Obama’s 2009 Trade Agenda. The document will serve as an outline for the trade initiatives the Obama Administration seeks to pursue in the coming year and reviews USTR’s performance in 2008.

The report indicates that the Obama Administration will pursue a trade policy that addresses workers’ rights at home and abroad, the environment, and quality of life issues, while promoting open commerce. The report also affirms the Administration’s belief that international trade is an increasingly important contributor to the U.S. and global economy.

While the trade agenda sets forth a number of policy priorities that President Obama will follow, it also lists the following objectives which his Administration will pursue in 2009:

  • Renew and reform existing trade preference programs, giving “careful consideration to proposals to concentrate benefits more effectively on the poorest countries and those that need the margin of preference to compete.”
  • Pending free trade agreements (FTAs): The Administration is developing a plan of action to address pending FTAs in consultation with Congress that would pass the Panama FTA relatively quickly and establish benchmarks for progress on South Korean and Colombia FTAs.
  • Review existing FTAs and bi-lateral investment treaties (BITs): The Administration plans to review all FTAs and BITs to ensure that they “advance the public interest.”
  • Improve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): The Administration will work with Canada and Mexico to identify ways to improve NAFTA without adversely affecting trade.
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)/Doha: Correct the “imbalance” in the current Doha negotiations in which the value of what the U.S. is expected to give is well-known and easily calculable, whereas the broad flexibilities available to other leaves the value to U.S. producers unclear, to achieve a strong, market opening agreement.
  • Trade promotion authority (TPA): The Administration will only use the authority to negotiate free trade agreements and bring them to an up or down vote in Congress after extensive consultation with Congress.
  • Promote a rules-based trading system and eliminate unfair non-tariff barriers, by negotiating improved transparency and due process in U.S. trading partners’ and strong intellectual property protections.

In addition to these objectives, the Administration’s Trade Agenda will also advance the President’s goals of a cleaner environment, a stronger response to the challenge of climate change, and more sustainable natural resources and energy supplies, by building on the environmental goods and services agreement begun under Doha.

Finally, the agenda stresses strong standards of social accountability and political transparency. According to the agenda, this involves working with trading partners to improve the status, conditions, and protections of workers and includes adjustment issues for the work force that are created by changes in global trade, such as the recently expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.

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