When was the last time the U.S.’s top trade official wasn’t a strong advocate for free trade? It may happen in the new Obama Administration.
According to numerous news reports, President-elect Obama has offered the post of USTR to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a 16-year member of the House, who serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee that oversees trade and is a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — his website lists him as “Assistant to the Speaker.”
Becerra’s record on supporting free trade is a mixed bag. He voted to hold up the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. He voted for the Peru free trade agreement, but against the Oman FTA and the Central America-DR FTA. He is a strong proponent of including non-trade issues in trade agreements, particularly labor and environmental provisions that could act as protectionist trade barriers by forcing poor countries to adopt rich countries’ standards.
Becerra also voted against the Trade Act of 2002, which provided the President with fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements and have them voted up or down by Congress. In voting against the measure, Becerra said that the act didn’t meaningfully address issues such as labor and the environment and failed to provide assistance to workers who would lose jobs as a result of future trade agreements.
His statement when voting against the trade pact with Oman shows his strong views: “Mr Speaker, I hate to say it, but I think it’s become very obvious that our system for devising trade agreements so very important to this country’s functioning around the world, has not only broken, but is broken completely. Today, we have a trade regime, which has led to the largest trade deficits this country has ever experienced. . . . We’ve never faced that before, but we continue to put forward trade agreements like these that leave us naked to competition that is neither free nor fair.”
Here’s what Becerra said when voting against the Central America-Dominican Republic trade agreement:
“Unfortunately, the current U.S. — Dominican Republic — Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) misses an opportunity to meaningfully elevate the quality of life as well as the economies of our Central American — DR neighbors. Instead, it sets us on a course towards the lowest common denominator and competition at the margins.
“It’s not that we couldn’t have done better. Our trade negotiators are some of the toughest in the world. They can come out â€˜guns blazing’ when they are serious about defending American interests, such as the protection of the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies. Yet the same tenacity is not applied to protect human beings or the environment.”
Here’s a list of the 10 previous (and current) USTRs: