Ron Kirk’s Texas origins may temper trade stance

Selecting former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as the nominee for U.S. Trade Representative sends a signal that perhaps President-elect Obama will temper his anti-trade stance in the face of real-world economics. Kirk, a two-term elected mayor of Dallas, doesn’t have much trade experience, but he is a native of the U.S.’s largest exporting state, with Mexico and Canada — those nasty NAFTA partners — as Texas’ major export destinations.

The nominee for one of Obama’s Cabinet positions holds a law degree from University of Texas School of Law and early on in his career worked for Senator Lloyd Bentsen both in his Senate office and when Bentsen was appointed Treasury Secretary by President Clinton.

Kirk served as Texas’ Secretary of State for one year, before running for mayor of Dallas and winning the election. He was reelected by a large majority in 1999, but left after two years to run unsuccessfully for Sen. Phil Gramm’s vacated Senate seat. He is now a partner in the law firm Vinson and Elkins.

What might provide perspective to Kirk’s trade stance is that he comes from a state that has been a powerhouse in exports. State figures show that exports totaled $168.16 billion in 2007. According to a Dallas Fed report,

Compared with the nation, Texas exports a larger share of its output, depends on exports for more of its jobs, sends more sophisticated products overseas and employs higher-skilled workers in export-related jobs. The state has been instrumental in the surge of overall U.S. trade; its port activity has grown more than twice as fast as the nation’s in the past decade.

Although Texas is an export leader, the report noted that state should be more diversified in both its export markets and the goods and services it provides to foreign markets.

The Texas job situation is also buoyed by its exports. Government figures show that 5.5 percent of all non-government jobs in the state are export-related, and 20 percent of Texas’ manufacturing jobs depend on exports, compared to 17 percent for the nation.

With these and other data demonstrating the economic and employment benefits of trade, one would hope that the in-coming U.S. Trade Representative won’t be too anxious to embrace protectionist policies that might stifle more open trade and economic growth.