U.S. Vows Rapid Action to Address Foreign Trade Barriers

Will review enforcement of the labor and environment provisions of existing trade agreements

President Barack Obama's administration vowed on March 31 to take swift action to open markets that have erected trade and investment barriers against the United States. In its first comprehensive report on trade barriers to lawmakers, the administration said it was concerned particularly by non-tariff barriers by "many nations" that could dampen U.S. recovery from prolonged recession.

The National Trade Estimate Report, required under law each year, described key barriers to U.S. trade and investment in 2008 as well as "the actions being taken" by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), Ron Kirk. The report outlined barriers posed by trading partners, including the EU and China.

Kirk said the Obama administration was conducting a review of existing trade agreements, including the enforcement of the labor and environment provisions, and would prioritize and address "the most significant trade barriers."

The USTR office was also identifying new cases where market access for U.S. goods and services "is in jeopardy because of disregard for the rule of law, costing our workers and businesses export opportunities and jobs."

It was planning to prosecute those cases through multilateral and bilateral dispute resolution "so that American workers can trust that their trading system yields results."

Kirk said that the report and "swift action" by his office would help efforts by the U.S. to recover from recession stemming from a home mortgage meltdown that triggered financial turmoil across the globe. "As tariffs have declined worldwide, many nations have erected different, non-tariff barriers to trade," the USTR said, highlighting that exports accounted for 13% of the U.S. economy.

Kirk echoed Obama's stand to "aggressively defend our rights and benefits under the rules-based trading system."

The report called on China to "more fully meet its obligations as a responsible stakeholder in the world trading system" and cited EU barriers to access for key U.S. agricultural exports as "a source of particular frustration."

"China will need to further institutionalize market-oriented reforms and eliminate mechanisms that allow government officials to intervene in the Chinese economy in a manner that is inconsistent with market principles," the report said. It wanted Beijing to "take additional steps to make its trade regime more predictable and transparent," saying government policymaking "prevents US businesses from achieving their full potential in the China market."

As for Europe, the report said even where EU agricultural tariff barriers were relatively low, US exports of commodities such as beef, poultry, soybeans, pork, and rice had been "restricted or excluded altogether." This, it said, was "due to nontariff barriers or regulatory approaches that do not reflect science-based decision making or a sound assessment of actual risks to consumers or the environment." It also raised concerns about EU and member state measures that "subsidize the development, production, and marketing of large civil aircraft," in an apparent reference to Airbus planes.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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