Obama Official Promises Enforcement of International Trade Agreements

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President Obama plans to step up enforcement of agreements in an effort to rebuild faith in international trade and drum up support for potential pacts, his top trade official said Thursday in Braddock.

The enforcement efforts would include investigating workers' rights violations without waiting for someone to lodge a complaint, coordinating trade treaty enforcement with larger agencies such as the State Department, and trying to get foreign governments to drop bans on such things as U.S. beef and pork, which the administration feels aren't warranted, Trade Rep. Ron Kirk said.

Kirk, speaking to steelworkers at U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Works, said the approach breaks with the administration of George W. Bush, which he said was focused on opening new markets at the expense of enforcing existing agreements.

"Americans have believed that our government, frankly, hasn't done enough to protect our trade rights. They think we just haven't enforced the rules the way that we should and that we let our partners run roughshod over us," Kirk said.

But critics blame major treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement for the decline of the country's manufacturing base, including the steel industry that once powered Western Pennsylvania's economy.

Recovering from the recession will require rebuilding that base, said Alan Tonelson, research fellow at the U.S. Business & Industry Council, a manufacturing industry group.

"We will never overcome this economic crisis until we figure out how to produce our way out of it. This crisis resulted from the nation amassing way too much debt, and that, in turn, resulted from our failure to produce many of the goods and services we consume," Tonelson said. "Improved enforcement is by no means a substitute for the kind of trade policy overhaul this country needs."

Kirk pointed to successes in the administration's six months, such as ending a 20-year European embargo on U.S. beef. Opening that market will result in $100 million more over three years for ranchers and farmers, Kirk said.

Picking fights over individual issues, and with individual countries, is a piecemeal approach that will do little to overcome the major threats to fair trade, Tonelson said. …