Tags: Bush's | Trade | Nominee | Faces | Uphill | Battles

Bush's Trade Nominee Faces Uphill Battles

Thursday, 17 March 2005 12:00 AM

Portman, who appeared with his wife and three children, joked that his fourth-grade daughter said she had never heard of the U.S. trade representative but declared the position a "really neat job" after he explained it to her.

"Open markets and better trade relations are key components to a more peaceful, a more stable and a more prosperous world," Portman said.

His nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate. Since he became one of the most well-liked members of Congress during his 12 years in the House, Portman was expected to have no trouble winning the Senate's endorsement.

Portman would succeed Robert Zoellick, who left the trade job earlier this year to become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Where Zoellick often clashed with Democrats as he promoted the administration's trade agenda, Portman was seen as someone who has successfully forged bipartisan coalitions from his post as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, the House panel that oversees trade policy.

Both Reps. Charles Rangel of New York, the panel's top Democrat, and Benjamin Cardin, the top Democrat on the committee's trade subcommittee, praised Bush's selection of Portman.

Rangel said Portman had already called him to discuss his new post and "I could not be more pleased that he is reaching out."

However, all sides agreed that it would take more than personal charm to move Bush's trade agenda during a time when the country is seeing soaring trade deficits, including an all-time high of $617 billion last year. Democrats cite that deficit as the chief reason the country has lost 3 million manufacturing jobs since mid-2000.

The administration completed negotiations months ago on a free trade deal covering the Dominican Republic and five Central American nations. However, Congress has yet to bring it up for a vote because of stiff opposition from Democrats unhappy that the agreement does not have stronger protections for U.S. workers against competition from low-wage nations with lax environmental regulations.

Portman will also have the task of reviving stalled talks to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would cover all countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba. Those talks missed a January completion deadline because of deep differences between the United States and a group of nations led by Brazil.

In addition, Portman will face significant challenges in pushing the Doha Round of global trade talks to a successful conclusion. Those talks must resolve major differences over such issues as agriculture. Developing countries are insisting that the United States and other rich nations slash their farm subsidies to give farmers in poorer nations a chance to compete.

Business groups, who had been concerned about the delay in filing the trade position, for the most part endorsed Portman's selection.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, now the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, called the nomination "a spectacular choice."

But Alan Tonelson, research fellow for the U.S. Business and Industry Council, said Portman was the wrong choice because of his support of trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. Tonelson said that has primarily helped U.S. companies seeking to outsource jobs to low-wage nations. The council represents 1,000 small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies that oppose the administration's trade policies.

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Portman, who appeared with his wife and three children, joked that his fourth-grade daughter said she had never heard of the U.S. trade representative but declared the position a "really neat job" after he explained it to her. "Open markets and better trade relations...
Bush's,Trade,Nominee,Faces,Uphill,Battles
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2005-00-17
Thursday, 17 March 2005 12:00 AM
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