Will Portman Really Have Trade Power?

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are fulsome in their praise of U.SD. President George W. Bushs nomination of Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to be U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), succeeding Robert B. Zoellick. This is a critical year for the trade agenda, with the DR-CAFTA [Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement] and extension of trade promotion authority pending. Portman will make sure the U.S. remains a leader in global trade, states Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber. He hails from a great manufacturing state, and he knows what it takes to compete in the world. Rob Portman will be a strong voice for leveling the international playing field and creating global opportunities for products made by American workers, says John Engler, the NAMs president.

If former trade lawyer Portman is confirmed by the Senate, which is expected, there is, however, a question of how much influence he will have. Former USTR Zoellick has moved to the State Department as Deputy Secretary, the number two position in the department headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But Zoellick keeps his reputation as a strong-willed and extremely effective negotiator on trade and investment issues, and it would not be a surprise if the State Department now becomes significantly more active in working with foreign governments on international economic issues, especially trade.

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