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Bush nominates Rep. Portman as trade rep

By DONNA BORAK, UPI Business Correspondent

WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- Standing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President George W. Bush announced Thursday morning the nomination of Congressmen Rob Portman to be the next U.S. Trade Representative.

"As a member of the House leadership, Rob has shown he can bring together people of differing views to get things done," said Bush.

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"He's been a tireless advocate for America's manufacturers and entrepreneurs. He's a former international trade lawyer who has shown a deep dedication to free and fair trade. And now he will bring that commitment to his new role as U.S. Trade Representative," Bush added.

Portman who has been closely linked to both Bush administrations served the first Bush White House as an associate council to the president and then later as a director of the office of legislative affairs.

Under the current Bush administration, Portman has chaired meetings of the House Republican Leadership team acting as a liaison between the leadership and the White House.

Since his election to Congress, Ohio's Second Congressional District Republican has been a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, additionally serving on its trade subcommittee. He is also vice chairman of the Budget Committee. Prior to entering Congress, Portman was an associate of the Washington law firm Patton Boggs where he specialized in international trade.

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"Portman is an outstanding choice and a hardworking member who has immersed himself in the trade and tax issues of this country," said Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on trade. "He has served as one of the president's closest confidants on Capitol Hill and will serve the president and our country well in this position."

The slot for the U.S. Trade Representative, a Cabinet-level position, has been vacant since Jan. 7, when Robert B. Zoellick was nominated by the president to be deputy secretary of State. Then nearly a month ago, Bush designated Peter F. Allgeier to be acting U.S. trade representative, until an official selection was confirmed.

Calling on Portman's experience as an Ohio representative who has dealt heavily with the manufacturing industry, Bush said that Portman had first-hand experience with U.S. jobs depending on exports.

"To keep our economy growing and creating jobs, we need to continue opening foreign markets to American products," said Bush. "And Rob knows that America's farmers and workers can compete with anybody, anytime, anywhere in the world, so long as the rules are fair."

Bush applauded the work of Zoellick in bringing China and Taiwan into the World Trade Organization, while working with Congress to secure a trade promotion authority. The United States has secured 12 free-trade agreements, and is currently working on negotiating an FTA with Oman and the United Arab Emirates, which is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

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"When he is confirmed by the Senate, Rob Portman will build on Ambassador Zoellick's achievements. I've asked him to take on a bold agenda," said Bush. "We need to continue to open markets abroad by pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with partners around the world."

Outlining the U.S. trade agenda ahead, Bush said that the United States must complete its obligations to conclude negotiations on the Doha development agenda within the framework of the WTO, which will help to liberalize trade to developing countries. He also said that the United States needed to establish a free trade area within the Americas and enforce trade laws, which allow American businesses and workers to compete on a level playing field.

Urging the Senate to promptly confirm the nomination, Bush said, "Rob is the right man to carry out this agenda."

Responding to Bush's nomination, Portman said, "I'm very proud to stand at your side, and I am grateful for you giving me this opportunity to join your cabinet and promote the bold international agenda you just described."

"Open markets and better trade relations are key components to a more peaceful, a more stable and more prosperous world. Through expanded trade, the roots of democracy and freedom are deepened. And here at home, trade policy opens markets to create jobs, a higher standard of living and greater economic growth," added Portman.

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Some members of Congress applauded Bush's nomination of Portman. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said, "We both come from states that rely heavily on manufacturing, and Rob knows how important these jobs are. He understands the need to open markets around the world to create more opportunities for our businesses and workers here at home."

However, the U.S. Business and Industry Council deplored the nomination, claiming that "Portman has been a dedicated outsourcer throughout his career in Congress," voting on trade agreements which have been aimed at sending manufacturing jobs abroad.

"These agreements are largely to blame to America's enormous trade and current account deficits and the dangerous foreign debt levels they have produced," said Alan Tonelson, research fellow at USBIC. "A U.S. Trade Representative with Representative Portman's record is the last thing the U.S. economy and the world economy need right now."

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