WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) -- After his unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate Friday, newly appointed U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman promised to focus on opening markets to expand freedom and reduce poverty.
"I will work hard to make sure Americans are competing on a level playing field and have the opportunity to sell their world class goods and services in overseas markets," Portman said in a USTR statement Friday.
Portman's first real test as U.S. trade representative will come next week when he meets with foreign trade counterparts to discuss further negotiations on the completion of the Doha development agenda. The mini-ministerial meeting in Paris hosted by the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will be held May 2-4
"I will hit the ground running by attending next week's trade meetings in Europe on the Doha Round, which holds so much promise for promoting prosperity throughout the world and for contributing to sustained economic growth and development," Portman said.
"The Doha negotiations are hitting a critical phase, and negotiations are lagging, particularly in the critical market areas of agriculture, goods and services. We must re-energize and sharpen the focus of the negotiations, while keeping ambition high," he added.
The WTO Doha Development Agenda launched in Qatar in 2001 is aimed at liberalizing trade and creating a new rule-making agenda for developing countries.
Following the last informal ministerial meeting in Kenya, acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said he was optimistic that progress would be made on Doha after some 30 nations had gained some "convergence" on critical issues like agriculture, services and market access of goods.
However, he added that there was still more work ahead in terms of increasing services, promoting non-agricultural market access and finding a solution to develop a market-access formula for agricultural tariffs. The United States hopes to conclude negotiations by 2006.
While the United States was the first member of the WTO to put forward a comprehensive agricultural trade reform proposal, Portman said Friday that he was concerned over the agricultural negotiations, which were in need of technical work before negotiations on tariffs could begin.
The United States has called for the elimination of export subsidies, with annual cuts of $100 billion in allowed trade-distorting domestic subsidies, as well as lowering average allowed global tariffs from 62 percent to 15 percent. It has also introduced a plan for eliminating tariffs in certain sectors, which would cut over $6 trillion in annual world goods trade.
Thus far a specific date for the elimination of agricultural tariffs has not been set, despite U.S. proposals to set a date.
"The United States remains committed to a successful and ambitious outcome in the Doha negotiations, and we have been a leader in advancing bold proposals in agriculture, goods and services," said Portman.
Facing Portman's tenure as trade representative will be securing congressional approval for the Central American and Dominica Republic Trade Agreement, trade barrier issues with China, enforcing existing agreements and developing several new bilateral trade agreements.
Portman is expected to meet with European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and Hong Kong Trade Minister John Tseng, among others, while he attends the OECD and WTO meetings in Paris.
Mandelson, who has worked closely with former U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick on Doha and dispute settlements on Airbus and Boeing subsidies, congratulated Portman, a former U.S. representative from Ohio, on his confirmation Friday.
"We have a huge amount to work on together, most importantly in showing joint leadership to bring the Doha Development Round to a successful conclusion," said Mandelson.
"By becoming an international trade negotiator Rob will join one of the world's more esoteric groups, of which I myself am still a relatively junior member. However, the privilege of working for jobs and growth is a great one."
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