Bush Taps a Tough Top Trade Warrior

His choice of the savvy Robert Zoellick and his decision to keep the U.S Trade Representative in the Cabinet are two good signs

President-elect George W. Bush made all the right choices on Jan. 11 when he chose Robert B. Zoellick, a brainy practitioner of big-picture foreign policy, as his top trade negotiator. His selection was a signal that trade policy will be an important priority for the incoming Administration.

Bush had been considering downgrading the position of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to sub-Cabinet rank. The idea: to reduce the bureaucratic power struggles that have arisen in recent years between the so-called pinstripes at the National Security Council, State Dept., and Defense Dept., and the "econoids" at the U.S. Trade Representatives Office and the Commerce and Agriculture Depts.


  The pinstripes wanted to keep national security ascendant in U.S. foreign policy, while the econoids favored elevating international economic matters to the top. Some on Capitol Hill wanted to resolve the tussle by creating a U.S. Trade Dept., merging Commerce and the USTR, which Zoellick will now head.

But vociferous objections from Senate Finance Committee Chairman-elect Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and from the Washington business lobby persuaded Bush to keep the USTR job at a Cabinet level. Critics of the plan to reduce the its importance pointed out that the nation's trade ambassador would be hamstrung in negotiations abroad if protocol-conscious foreign trade ministers refused to sign draft trade deals with someone they saw as being of lesser rank.

After filling his last Cabinet vacancy, Bush said he expected Zoellick to report directly to him, and he would maintain an active interest in expanding trade markets for U.S. farmers, fulfilling a campaign pledge. "It's important for us to be opening up markets around the world so our farmers can be selling into open markets, for example," Bush said, adding: "I want to follow closely those aspects of trade agreements that deal with areas such as agriculture."


  Zoellick will have to hit the ground running. Not only is the U.S. actively negotiating free-trade deals with Chile and Singapore but the U.S. is facing more than a dozen significant trade disputes with its top trading partners: Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and Japan. In addition, the Clinton Administration's USTR, Charlene Barshefsky, has been negotiating a hemispheric free-trade pact with Latin America while trying to kick-start global talks on services and agriculture.

In the Administration of Bush's father, Zoellick served under James A. Baker III as a Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House and at various positions in the Treasury Dept. He was also an Undersecretary of State for economic policy. He has a masters degree and law degree from Harvard University, and most recently was a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. Trade experts generally regard him as a solid conceptualizer and policymaker. Now his negotiating strengths will be tested as never before.

By Paul Magnusson in Washington

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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