Trade Representative Kirk Outlines Asia-Focused Trade Agenda at East-West Center’s USAPC Washington Conference

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk

President Obama is eager to seize the opportunity presented by the U.S. hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2011 to demonstrate America’s commitment to playing a stronger and more constructive role in the Asia Pacific region, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on May 6. In a keynote address at the U.S. Asia Pacific Council’s (USAPC) annual conference in Washington, D.C., Ambassador Kirk described APEC 2011 as a potential “watershed moment” in U.S. economic engagement in the Asia Pacific. He promised a “bold and ambitious” approach aimed at further advancing key non-tariff barriers to trade and investment issues, facilitating cheaper, easier, and faster trade in the region, and promoting trade and investment in environmental goods and services.

In keeping with the theme of the USAPC’s day-long conference -- “U.S.-Asia Pacific Relations: Transitions In a New Era” – Ambassador Kirk highlighted work underway to conclude a new 21st century “gold standard” trade accord with seven Asia-Pacific countries. In negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), “we hope to build what will become the largest, most dynamic trade collaboration of our time,” which ultimately would create and retain U.S. jobs, integrate U.S. companies in regional production and supply chains, and promote new technologies and emerging sectors, he said.

C. Fred Bergsten, Director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who participated in a panel discussion about the U.S.-Asia trade agenda, concurred that the TPP should be at the heart of U.S. trade policy for both economic and geopolitical reasons. “If we stand aside on trade in Asia, China will step in and shut the United States out,” he warned. However, Bergsten and fellow panelist Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations questioned the wisdom of making the TPP a “gold standard” agreement. By insisting on such high standards, Washington will have to try and include politically sensitive provisions covering agricultural trade and labor and environmental standards that could be deal-breakers, they said. Bergsten proposed that the Obama administration use the solid, but less politically contentious U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement as a model for the TPP.

The conference also included individual speakers and expert panels who delved into such topics as the Congress and China, prospects for “balanced, sustainable, and inclusive growth” in the Asia-Pacific region, U.S. alliances and partnership in the region, and use of the Internet to facilitate political activism and development of civil society.

The Council’s annual conferences are the only programs in Washington, D.C. focused exclusively on the array of economic, political, and strategic issues confronting the United States in its relations with the nations of the Asia Pacific. The USAPC, founded in 2003 by the East-West Center, is a non-partisan organization composed of prominent American experts and opinion leaders whose aim is to promote and facilitate greater U.S. engagement with the Asia Pacific region through human networks and institutional partnerships.