Kerry would shift US trade focus towards WTO
3 September 2004
By DOUG PALMER
WASHINGTON - Democrat John Kerry probably would put more time and energy into world trade talks and enforcing existing agreements than pursuing bilateral deals like the Bush administration has, a campaign adviser said.
"Most likely you would see a strategic rethink of how resources should be allocated across the various priorities in trade policy," said Lael Brainard, who served as a senior economics aide to former president Bill Clinton.
That probably would lead to more emphasis on enforcement issues and World Trade Organisation negotiations, "which at the end of the day delivers a lot more bang for the buck," said Brainard, who is on leave from the Brookings Institution think tank to advise the Democratic presidential candidate on trade issues. She spoke in an interview late on Tuesday with Reuters.
The Bush administration has racked up a string of free trade agreements — two of them begun by Clinton — since taking office. The most controversial, a free trade pact with five Central American countries, remains stuck in the US Congress because of strong opposition from Democrats who complain its labour and environmental provisions are too weak.
Brainard minimized the difficulty of redrafting that pact in a way that would be acceptable to the countries and a majority in Congress. But she downplayed the economic importance of the bilateral agreements, saying studies done by the US International Trade Commission show a "rather small" overall benefit to the US economy.
Brainard also said she did not see proof to support US trade representative Robert Zoellick’s claim that bilateral trade deals help built momentum for a new WTO agreement.
"It’s very, very hard to discern" any positive spillover from one to the other, Brainard said.
Richard Fisher, a deputy US trade representative in the Clinton administration, disagreed. "Zoellick’s approach has been the right one. I would have done it the same," he said.
The Bush administration is currently pursuing deals with Thailand, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, South Africa and four of its neighbours. Kerry would finish talks already started, but may not launch new ones, Fisher said.
Both Brainard and Fisher said they had no idea who Kerry might tap as his chief trade negotiator if elected. "It’s a junior cabinet position" and Kerry is unlikely to give it much thought until after the election, Fisher said.