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Remarks by Ambassador Kirk at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Annual Trade Symposium

Remarks by Ambassador Kirk
United States Trade Representative

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Annual Trade Symposium
Washington, D.C.
April 13, 2011

* As Prepared for Delivery *

“Thank you, Commissioner Bersin. It’s great to be here. Events like this are incredibly helpful to policy makers because they give us an opportunity to hear first-hand what is and isn’t working for you and your customers. After all, you’re the ones out there on the front lines of trade, importing and exporting, day in and day out.

“USTR is responsible for the negotiation and enforcement of U.S. trade agreements. It’s our job to ensure that American producers and consumers continue to benefit from international trade.

“That’s why we are constantly working to reduce or eliminate tariffs and other non-tariff barriers to trade.

“CBP is a critical partner in our efforts to deliver trade’s benefits more broadly to the American people. CBP helps to keep trade flowing safely and legitimately, and at USTR we are always working to enhance that process.

“We frequently consult with CBP through both the interagency Trade Policy Review Group and Trade Policy Staff Committee. Together we work through customs-related challenges brought to us by U.S. exporters, and we develop practical approaches to address these challenges with our trading partners.

“Close collaboration between CBP and USTR is critical to implementing President Obama’s National Export Initiative (NEI). President Obama has set a goal to double exports by the end of 2014, and the NEI is the Administration’s all-hands-on-deck strategy to get it done. And the good news is we’re on track to meet that goal – exports were up 17 percent last year.

“Furthermore, as exports are growing, the overall economy is also showing real signs of strength. The private sector added 230,000 jobs last month – which marked the 13th consecutive month of private sector job growth.

“To keep us on track to double exports and to continue putting Americans back to work, the Administration is pursuing a robust legislative agenda on trade.

“Among the key items on our agenda this year are pending trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama, along with renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA), and the General System of Preferences (GSP), in addition to the granting of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Russia as that country joins the WTO. I’ll briefly describe each of these items.

“The U.S.-Korea trade agreement is the most commercially significant trade agreement the United States has concluded in more than 17 years. For goods trade alone, the U.S.-Korea trade agreement is estimated to increase exports to Korea by $11 billion – and that total could support at least 70,000 additional U.S. jobs.

“The agreement opens the Korean market and eliminates barriers to U.S. goods, services, and investment. It will provide U.S. businesses, workers, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and service providers with unprecedented access to Korea’s advanced $1 trillion economy.

“Last year this Administration – working closely with Congress and stakeholders – successfully negotiated new commitments from Korea that will provide additional market access and a level playing field for American auto manufacturers and workers exporting to Korea.

“With regard to Colombia, the International Trade Commission has estimated that the agreement will expand U.S. exports by more than $1.1 billion, and will increase U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion.

“The agreement will also keep U.S. exporters competitive as the Government of Colombia negotiates trade deals with the European Union, Canada and others partners.

“Last week we announced an agreement on an Action Plan outlining steps the Colombian government needs to take on labor issues that will allow us to move forward with the trade agreement.

“The Action Plan significantly expands the protection of labor leaders and organizers, bolsters efforts to punish those who perpetrate violence against union members, and strengthens labor laws and their enforcement.

“And the Action Plan contains specific, detailed actions that Colombia will take to advance each of those goals.

“Moving forward on the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement is important now that our concerns are being addressed in a way that is consistent with American values and that levels the playing field for American workers.

“With regard to Panama, the Panamanian Government is now in the process of completing work on the last few steps remaining to address tax and labor issues related to that agreement, and we are hopeful that they may be resolved soon.

“So to review quickly: Korea is ready to go now, as we have said. The Colombia trade agreement could be ready in a matter of weeks. And we expect the same to be true for Panama, since the ball is in their court and they are making good progress.

“But make no mistake – the Administration is also considering timing of next steps on the Korea, Colombia and Panama agreements in the context of a larger discussion about sequencing a comprehensive trade agenda this year.

“Specifically, the Administration is seeking to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance, as well as the ATPA and GSP trade preference programs, and secure PNTR for Russia as it accedes to the WTO, including by working with Congress to terminate application of Jackson-Vanik.

“At the same time we are forging ahead with broad-based trade initiatives in dynamic the Asia-Pacific region. This year we are advancing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in coordination with Congress, stakeholders, and our like-minded trading partners.

“TPP is a key initiative the United States is pursuing to negotiate an ambitious, 21st-century regional trade agreement along with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

“In TPP we are seeking a broad and deep agreement that builds on the best of existing trade pacts and that more fully addresses new issues of concern for businesses and workers.

“For example, in addition to the high-standard, market opening elements of current U.S. trade agreements, it will also feature cross-cutting issues not tackled in previous trade agreements.

“These include promoting connectivity to deepen the links of U.S. companies to emerging Asia-Pacific production and distribution networks; increasing the compatibility of regulatory systems of TPP countries so that U.S. companies can operate more seamlessly in these markets; strengthening small businesses through greater participation in international trade; and promoting development.

“Two weeks ago, the United States and partner countries concluded the sixth round of talks in Singapore and talks will continue at an intensive pace.

“We are also leading in the Asia-Pacific by hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum this year for the first time since 1993. President Obama’s stated goal for APEC 2011 is to help build a seamless regional economy in the Asia-Pacific. And we’re off to a great start.

“Last month in Washington we discussed issues such as strengthening regional economic integration, expanding trade, promoting clean energy, and advancing regulatory cooperation and convergence.

“You and your customers may also be pleased to know that APEC is working to reduce the time, cost, and uncertainty of moving goods through the Asia-Pacific region with the Supply Chain Connectivity Action Plan.

“Under the Action Plan, one of the areas we seek to discuss with our APEC partners is how to expedite the shipment of goods under a certain value by establishing a baseline de minimis value for APEC.

“This would eliminate duties or taxes on relevant low value shipments. And it would allow for customs officials to process those relevant shipments more quickly. Both of these factors would lower exporting costs, which could be especially beneficial for small businesses seeking to grow through trade.

“And here’s another APEC idea that could help you and your customers. Last year we put all the tariff schedules and rules of origin information for virtually all 21 APEC economies in English on one website – it’s called WebTR.

“We are looking at ways to expand WebTR with additional information such as summaries of existing trade agreements, so that you and your customers can take full advantage of trade opportunities throughout the Asia-Pacific.

“To be sure, we know that it’s critically important to get the details right, so we are consulting with CBP officials about these practical proposals, and we are eager to hear from all of you as well.

“We’ll be discussing these ideas and many more next month when I chair a meeting of trade ministers in Big Sky, Montana. The work we do there will advance the APEC 2011 agenda toward the final Economic Leaders’ Meeting, which will be hosted by President Obama in Honolulu, Hawaii this November.

“The Administration is continuing to work hard to achieve trade successes at the multilateral level. The WTO’s Doha Development Agenda negotiations represent an important opportunity to achieve trade liberalization on a global scale, through market access commitments as well as important work on trade facilitation.

“But Doha can only reach this potential if key partners like China, India, and Brazil are willing to recognize their success as exporting powers by agreeing to open their markets to a degree much greater than what is currently on the negotiating table.

“The gaps remain large, but the United States is working with our partners to try to find solutions.

“As I said earlier, the mission of USTR is to both negotiate and enforce U.S trade agreements. So I would be remiss if I did not spend some time sharing with you the robust enforcement efforts that USTR is pursuing on behalf of U.S. producers.

“In particular, I want to highlight two recent reports that reflect our comprehensive approach to combating non-tariff barriers to trade.

“As many of you know, even as tariffs are being reduced around the world, many countries are constructing ‘behind the border’ barriers to trade. These non-tariff barriers can take a variety of forms.

“For example, some countries are using non-science based sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) that unfairly block high-quality U.S. agricultural exports.

“And some countries are using product standards, testing requirements, and other requirements that create technical barriers to trade (TBT). These TBT measures often put U.S. exports at a competitive disadvantage; some even block market access completely.

“To respond to these concerns, in my first year as USTR, I pledged to develop and issue reports dealing specifically with SPS and TBT issues.

“Last month we released the second annual reports. They document our successful efforts to reduce or remove unwarranted SPS and TBT measures that are harming U.S agricultural producers, manufacturers, and service providers.

“Furthermore, we intend to use the reports as a road map for additional progress on these issues, which are critical to market access for American exporters. We are eager to hear from you about the trade barriers you are facing in international markets.

“These enforcement efforts reflect how committed we are to maintaining a level playing field for U.S. exports.

“Finally, let me give you the latest information on U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking, which I know affects many of you. As you may know, last month, President Obama and Mexican President Calderón agreed on a path forward to this dispute, which will lead to the lifting of prohibitive tariffs on U.S. exports.

“This week the U.S. Department of Transportation released the details of a proposed, phased long-haul, cross-border trucking program between the United States and Mexico. The proposed new program prioritizes safety, while satisfying the United States’ international obligations.

“Mexico has committed to suspending 50 percent of the tariffs at the time a final agreement for a new program is signed by both countries. The remaining 50 percent will be suspended at the time the first Mexican carrier receives authorization under the new program.

“Let me just close by emphasizing that supporting job creation is job one for the Obama Administration. And trade is playing a key role in our economic recovery.

“Because when American producers have the opportunity to sell their goods and services to customers in international markets, we win. We win market share, we win new business, and we win the loyalty of customers who feel that ‘Made in America’ is the brand they trust the most.

“At USTR we’re doing our part to enable your success. Thank you for all that you do to drive the economic engine of U.S. trade. I look forward to continuing our work together.”