Report: Ron Kirk to be Obama Trade Representative

The betting is that former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk will be appointed as U.S. trade representative by President-elect Barack Obama tomorrow.

The position is highly important because the representative — often a full member of the cabinet — negotiates the country’s trade agreements. In the midst of the global financial turmoil, there is much concern that the U.S. will adopt a protectionist trade policy that could slow down any economic recovery. Obama has said however that he is not protectionist, but simply seeks fairer trade with U.S. partners.

Kirk, who is a lawyer at Vinson & Elkins in Dallas, has been declining comment apart from acknowledging that he has been interviewed by the Obama transition team.

The latest word comes from Christopher Wenk, a plugged-in lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. He just distributed an email saying, “Ron Kirk will be USTR pick. Hearing from GOOD sources it is official and will be announced tomorrow afternoon.”

Earlier, Washington seemed to have settled on word that Rep. Xavier Becerra of California would be the trade representative. But Becerra yesterday announced that he would stay in Congress, where he will be vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

One surprising thing is that Kirk appears to hold significantly different views on trade from Becerra. Becerra had said that he regretted voting for NAFTA, and opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement. But As Dallas mayor from 1995 to 2001, Kirk appeared to be more favorable toward free trade.

“Looking at his record, particularly as mayor of Dallas, he certainly understands the benefits of trade,” Wenk said in an email exchange.

Obama reportedly was considering Kirk either for trade representative or transportation secretary. Now, however, Congressman Ray Lahood, an Illinois Republican, is going to be designated as the transportation secretary.

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