Yesterday, Ambassador Kirk held a conference call with members of the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee (IGPAC). Ambassador Kirk provided an update on implementation of U.S. trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama, as well as the Obama Administration’s enhanced efforts to enforce U.S. trade rights.
The discussion focused on the benefits of the trade agreements, including the recent announcement by President Obama during the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia that the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement will enter into force on May 15, 2012. Ambassador Kirk noted the positive response to the President’s announcement, adding that USTR certified that Colombia has met the requirements for entry into force of the agreement. Ambassador Kirk also noted progress made by the Colombian government under the Colombia Action Plan Related to Labor Rights, including the establishment of a new ministry of labor and additional resources to prosecute perpetrators of violence against union members.
Ambassador Kirk also highlighted USTR’s efforts to enforce U.S. trade agreements, saying that while “trade expansion is one aspect of our work, equally critical is trade enforcement.” He described USTR’s lead role in the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC), which was established by President Obama. As laid out in the President’s Blueprint for America and as part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to leveling the playing field for international trade, ITEC will draw from various agencies to focus on enforcement and pursue trade issues with more resources than previously available. Ambassador Kirk cited a recently filed World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement case against China’s export restraints on rare earths as an example of a complex case that requires the kind of rigorous analysis that ITEC will enable.
To conclude, the Ambassador commented that steps need to be taken by Congress as Russia joins the WTO this year. Specifically, he said Congress needs to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, so that the United States has more WTO enforcement tools available and to ensure that U.S. exporters can compete on a level playing field against their international competitors in Russia.