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Ask the Ambassador Responses

Welcome to the Ask the Ambassador page. We have received many questions and comments from not just across the United States, but also from different regions of the world. This section will feature questions that express common themes running throughout the questions we receive.

06/02/2011 - 1:37pm

We recently received a question from Anna in Maryland about the U.S.-Korea trade agreement and growing American jobs.

"In light of the recent FTA with Korea, will that increase or have a significant impact on U.S. jobs? If so, in what industries may we see this impact take place?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"The U.S.-South Korea trade agreement is estimated to increase U.S. exports to Korea by $10-$11 billion annually. And that is just the result of removing South Korea’s tariffs on U.S. goods. All these increased exports are estimated to support at least 70,000 additional U.S. jobs. But it does not stop there.

When you add in the effects of the agreement’s many provisions that eliminate non-tariff barriers and strengthen the protection of intellectual property, for example, we believe the actual increase in U.S. exports will be even higher, which means more U.S. jobs. Also, Korea has a $580 billion services market, where the U.S. already competes very strongly. The agreement opens up that services market even more, which will mean even more exports of American services to Korea, which in turn means even more U.S. jobs.

With South Korea being a developed, $1 trillion economy, the agreement will benefit American exporters – and therefore help create additional jobs – in a broad range of industries and sectors, from machinery, aerospace, and medical technology, to express delivery services and insurance, and most everything in between."

Thank you for continuing our dialogue on trade. Please keep submitting your questions and comments for the Ambassador.

08/04/2010 - 3:55pm

We recently received a question from Ryan about the trade and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Besides reducing cotton subsidies, what trade alternatives are available to the United States to help alleviate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"Ryan, thank you for your question about how trade can help reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Trade can be an important tool for promoting sub-Saharan Africa's economic development and improving lives and livelihoods. That is why African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade preference program that provides duty free access to the U.S. market for substantially all products exported from 38 eligible sub-Saharan African countries can make a real difference in the lives of African entrepreneurs, farmers and families seeking a better life. Now in its tenth year, AGOA, enacted in 2000, has been at the center of U.S.-African engagement on trade and investment. AGOA has helped expand and diversify African exports to the United States, while at the same time fostering an improved business environment in many African countries.

U.S. imports under AGOA in 2009 totaled $33.7 billion, with $3.4 billion in nonoil trade, a sector that the United States wants to further expand.

Thanks to AGOA, imports of non-traditional and value-added products from Africa have increased dramatically. These include manufactured goods from South Africa, apparel from Lesotho, jams and jellies from Swaziland, cut flowers from Kenya and Ethiopia, and processed cocoa products from Ghana.

AGOA eligible countries are:

  • Angola

  • Benin

  • Botswana

  • Burkina Faso

  • Burundi

  • Cameroon

  • Cape Verde

  • Chad

  • Comoros

  • Republic of Congo

  • Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Djibouti

  • Ethiopia

  • Gabon

  • The Gambia

  • Ghana

  • Guinea-Bissau

  • Kenya

  • Lesotho

  • Liberia

  • Malawi

  • Mali

  • Mauritania

  • Mauritius

  • Mozambique

  • Namibia

  • Nigeria

  • Rwanda

  • Sao Tome and Principe

  • Senegal

  • Seychelles

  • Sierra Leone

  • South Africa

  • Swaziland

  • Tanzania

  • Togo

  • Uganda

  • Zambia

The eighth meeting of the AGOA Forum was held in August 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya. I traveled with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis to participate in the 2009 Forum, along with senior officials from more than a dozen U.S. Government agencies. We met with numerous African trade ministers, leaders of African regional economic organizations, and representatives of the African and American private sectors and civil society to discuss issues and strategies for advancing trade, investment, and economic development in Africa as well as ways to increase two-way U.S.-Africa trade. In 2009, I also visited South Africa, Ethiopia and Senegal and met with government and business leaders on trade and investment issues. I look forward to continuing to engage with our African partners, to explore ways we can strengthen our partnership to further stimulate development and alleviate poverty through trade.

The ninth AGOA Forum is currently taking place in both Washington DC (August 3-4) and in Kansas City, MO (August 5-6). This year’s AGOA Forum theme is 'AGOA at 10: New Strategies for a Changing World.'

To learn more about my trips to African countries and our US-Africa trade agenda, go to our Africa page."

04/15/2010 - 1:19pm

This week we received a question about the role of the U.S. Trade Representative. Ken from Arizona asks: 

“How, Mr. Ambassador, do your duties fall outside State and/or Commerce Department?” 

Ambassador Kirk responds: 

“Thank you for your question, Ken. As the U.S. Trade Representative, I am President Obama’s principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson on trade issues. My office has the responsibility of developing and coordinating the implementation of U.S. trade policy, in consultation with other federal agencies and Congress. 

I represent the United States in our dealings with foreign governments regarding their laws, policies, and practices that affect U.S. trade. I negotiate with individual countries (such as with China), groups of countries (such as in the Administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative), and in international organizations responsible for trade matters (such as the World Trade Organization). One of my chief responsibilities is to negotiate agreements with my foreign counterparts that reduce trade barriers and create new opportunities for U.S. exports. My office also takes the lead in ensuring that our trading partners live up to their obligations under the agreements they sign with us. 

The Department of Commerce and Department of State have trade-related expertise and responsibilities that complement and support USTR’s mission. Each is a member of the USTR-led interagency committee through which the Administration develops and implements U.S. trade policy. These departments contribute knowledge and expertise on U.S. manufacturing and foreign policy. 

The Commerce Department plays a leadership role, working with U.S. companies and foreign governments, to promote exports of U.S. manufactured goods. This support is critical if U.S. exporters are to be aware, and take full advantage, of the market opening created by the trade agreements USTR negotiates. Both the Commerce and State Departments oversee a network of in-country U.S. commercial and economic officials posted at U.S Embassies worldwide. These officials play a critical role in carrying out U.S. trade policy. They provide a wealth of information on foreign trade practices that is invaluable in helping the United States reduce barriers to U.S. exports.”

04/08/2010 - 4:31pm

We recently received a question about small business exports to Southeast Asia. Michael from South Carolina asks:

"Ambassador Kirk, I have recently started a company importing coffee from Laos. My partner, an American, currently lives in the Philippines. He has an extensive network of companies, and businessperson's in the country, as well as southwestern China. We are looking for ways to leverage these contacts. I recently saw you on CNBC, talking about small business exports. I would love to do my part in helping to facilitate your work in exporting to Southeast Asia.

The issue that I am having is two-fold:

1) I am a young entrepreneur (27 years old), generationally my business understanding of exports is very limited. My knowledge base is only in importing.

2) The only things I can come up with for exports are: capital equipment, and agriculture products. Very high capital requirements and these industries are not small business oriented.

My two questions are:

1) How do I go about leverage my contacts in Southeast Asia for small businesses in America. What beginning steps should I take?

2) What industries have a competitive advantage over Southeast Asia?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:


I appreciate your question and am delighted to learn that my CNBC remarks have led you to consider potential export opportunities. At USTR we are working to create trade opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, so small firms like yours can export, grow and create new, high-paying jobs. My advice is that you contact our commercial officers in our Embassies in the Philippines and Laos, who will be able to provide more detailed information on specific opportunities for U.S. small businesses in those countries and ways to take advantage of your contacts. A number of small businesses have already made the leap to exports with the help of the Commercial Service, like the energy drink company from California currently negotiating deals in Southeast Asia.

The website for the U.S. Commercial Service for the Philippines has information on the services they offer like: arranging appointments with potential distributors, business partners and sales representatives, providing background checks on businesses, and conducting both broad and customized industry research. Their website also provides free access to their market research library as well as a list of sector analysis reports. You can also email their office in Manila for more specific questions. The U.S. Commercial Service for Thailand currently covers Laos and you can email their office in Bangkok for more information.

The Commerce Department's International Trade Administration also provides export assistance to U.S. companies and works to promote trade and investment across the globe. The U.S. Commercial Service runs Export Assistance Centers throughout the country staffed with experts who understand overseas markets and your local economy. Office locations can be found here. The Annual Report of the U.S. Commercial Service is also an important resource, which identifies sectors with the best prospects for U.S. companies. In addition, you may want to contact the Export-Import Bank, which assists in the financing of U.S. goods and services exports for companies both large and small.

I invite you to sign up for USTR's free weekly email newsletter, in order to stay apprised of U.S. trade policy initiatives in Asia and elsewhere, and USTR's efforts to open new markets for small businesses. Go to the homepage at, scroll to the bottom and click on eNewsletter.

Again, thank you for your question and I wish you the best of luck."

03/29/2010 - 12:19pm

We recently received a question about the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).  Frank from Texas asks:

"Ambassador Kirk, I just found out the AGOA benefits will be over starting January 1, 2010. Why? This has been a great benefit for countries such as Madagascar. Are there any plans in the future to reverse this? Has this been implemented already?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"Thank you for the question, Frank.  The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will not expire until 2015.  However, AGOA requires the President to annually designate countries as eligible to receive the benefits of the Act, if they meet the Act's eligibility criteria.  These criteria include, among other things, progress on rule of law and political pluralism.  The March 2009 undemocratic transfer of power in Madagascar, and the subsequent failure to establish concrete steps toward re-establishing a constitutional democratic government and rule of law led to the termination of Madagascar's AGOA benefits in January 2010.  The United States joined the international community, including the African Union and the southern African Development Community in condemning the March 2009 coup.  According to the AGOA legislation, all nations will once again be up for review at the end of 2010.

For the 38 countries that meet the eligibility criteria, the combination of most favored nation rates (MFN), Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), and AGOA means that almost all their goods enter the United States duty-free.  Africa accounts for only two percent of global trade and it is an initiative like AGOA that can bolster Africa's capacity to trade internationally, while also opening new business opportunities for American workers and firms.  Two-way trade between the United States and AGOA nations has more than doubled since the AGOA legislation was signed in 2000.  AGOA increases trade opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic, like the molded fiber-glass home manufacturer from Mississippi shipping their low-maintenance and energy-efficient structures to Nigeria and other AGOA members.  AGOA has also played an important part in generating dialogue and brokering partnerships between American and African entrepreneurs- expanding opportunities for both trade and investment.  We look forward to a year of growth and recovery with our African trading partners, as American businesses expand into new markets, and bring the benefits of trade back home to our workers and families."

03/15/2010 - 2:37pm

We recently received a question about our trading partners in the Pacific. Joe from Missouri asks:

"Will the negotiations between the US and New Zealand (and the others in the "P-4") resume soon? I followed the AUSFTA in the early 2000s and am eager to see what comes of the NZ negotiations. I'm particularly interested to see a framework developed that would promote and allow the mutual recognition of qualifications in professional services. I believe the AUSFTA encouraged this but to what extent that was successful, I do not know."

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"Thank you for your question, Joe. New Zealand is an important trading partner for the United States, with U.S. exports totaling more than $4.3 billion in 2008. American businesses have already seen the potential in markets across the Pacific, and are exporting machinery, electronic equipment and other goods.

For example, one small, high-tech firm from Pleasanton, California, is exporting its innovations, selling robotics and software to New Zealand and other Asia-Pacific countries.

Businesses and workers will continue to see the benefits of trade with a comprehensive and high-standard agreement linking the economies of the Asia-Pacific region.

Last year President Obama announced his intentions to enter into negotiations of a regional, Asia-Pacific trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). USTR currently has senior staff in Australia for the first round of negotiations, and they are working toward an agreement that will increase American exports, enhance our competitiveness abroad and support job opportunities for American workers. The current TPP includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. A successful TPP agreement will expand trading opportunities with New Zealand and other Asia-Pacific economies - an effort vital to America's economic future.

We are working with Congress and stakeholders to develop a TPP agenda that reflects our priorities and provides the greatest benefit for American families and workers. Be sure to check out this week for updates from the TPP negotiations in Australia."

03/05/2010 - 11:58am

We recently received a question about our trading relationship with Mongolia.  Roger from Indiana asks:

"Are we in negotiations with Mongolia to develop a free trade agreement? I think they would be a good partner."

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"Thank you for your question, Roger.  While we are not currently in negotiations with Mongolia for a free trade agreement, we continue to pursue trade initiatives with Mongolia through the U.S.-Mongolia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), established in 2004.  Since launching the agreement, U.S. exports there have more than doubled, as American-made vehicles, machinery, electronic equipment and other goods have made their way to Mongolian markets.  Through this forum we have been able to address a wide-range of trade and economic issues to help strengthen our trading relationship in areas like intellectual property rights, labor, environmental matters, non-tariff barriers, and transparency.  USTR continues to take steps in enhancing our trade relationship so that American businesses can have more open access to markets in Mongolia and increase exports there.

In an effort to boost trade, last year we launched negotiations for a United States-Mongolia Transparency Agreement, designed to establish mutual commitments on transparency in trade and investment.  Once completed, this agreement should lead to increased clarity for businesses trying to export.  A completed Transparency Agreement, complemented by continuing bilateral dialogue on other issues, should make it possible for more and more U.S. businesses and workers to benefit from our growing trade relationship with Mongolia. "

Thank you for continuing our dialogue on trade. Please keep submitting your questions and comments for the Ambassador.

01/06/2010 - 1:35pm

We recently received a question about the future of U.S.-EU trade relations. Cornelius from Kansas writes:

"How does the new administration see the prospects of promoting trade between the U.S. and the EU through the Transatlantic Economic Council?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"Thanks for the question, Cornelius. The U.S. economic relationship with the 27 member countries of the EU is the largest and most complex economic relationship in the world. It is a critical pillar of economic well-being for both partners.

The figures tell the story quite clearly. Transatlantic trade and investment flows between the United States and the EU now average about $2.7 billion in value each day, and support 14 million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. State economies all across the country rely on this relationship, and 40 states have seen an increase in exports to the EU within the last year.

In 2008, companies like Insect-O-Cutor in Stone Mountain, Georgia, made nearly 15 percent of their sales of insect control equipment to customers in Europe, contributing to the state's nearly $8 billion in exports. In Tucson, Arizona, AGM Container Controls' managed to quintuple sales of their manufacturing products by exporting their breather valves, humidity indicators, and others goods to the German market. And 50 percent of the sales of biotechnological products from Daedalus Innovations, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, come from consumers in European countries.

This enormous volume of trade and investment promotes economic prosperity not only in the United States and Europe, but also in the dozens of other countries that trade with us.

Over the past decade, we have increasingly focused our trade policy discussions with the EU on the ways differences in the regulation of our domestic economies can pose obstacles to greater transatlantic economic integration. The impact of regulation on trade has been and will continue to be a principal focus of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC).

The TEC - a cabinet level forum - has met four times since it was established in 2007, with the goal of strengthening transatlantic economic integration to improve our competitiveness and the lives of our people. Cooperation in the TEC has focused on a broad range of issues, including efforts to limit unnecessary regulatory divergence and to promote innovation and emerging technologies, investment, and the protection of intellectual property rights. The TEC also has facilitated closer cooperation between U.S. and EU legislators and stakeholders.

I look forward to working with my counterparts from other U.S. government agencies to make the TEC a success. Making regulatory approaches more compatible can be difficult, but success in some sectors could yield major benefits in terms of increased trade, productivity, and growth."

12/04/2009 - 4:15pm

This week, Kalim from North Carolina asks the best way for a small business to access markets abroad.  He asks:

"What is the fastest way to global business growth?  I just started a new corporation to offer digital media services for direct media marketing along with general construction for large and small businesses.  I would like to expand my services to other countries in need.  How do I go about doing that, in an efficient way?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"Thanks for your question.  Small businesses have great potential for global business growth, and finding new customers overseas can help grow your business and create new jobs in your community.

Here at USTR, we have launched an initiative to make sure that America's trade policies increase opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises to export both goods and services.  Services, in particular - including sectors like digital media services, marketing, and construction services - account for 80 percent of U.S. jobs and are an exciting growth area for U.S. exports.

While USTR works to open new markets abroad for all U.S. small businesses, the Department of Commerce offers customized resources to assist individual business such as yours with accessing new markets and taking advantage of our existing trade agreements.  I would encourage you to visit to locate the U.S. Export Assistance Center nearest you, and discover the many online resources Commerce offers.  If you're just beginning to sell internationally, Commerce recommends focusing on two or three best-prospect markets, and has step-by-step research guidelines online to get you started.

The Small Business Administration also has developed a Small Business Guide to Exporting, which you can find by clicking here.

I also encourage you to sign up for USTR's free email newsletter, which provides a weekly update on our initiatives with trading partners around the world and can be a good information resource.  Go to our homepage,, and on the bottom right-hand corner click on enewsletter.

Congratulations on your new business, and good luck!"

11/05/2009 - 8:34am

We frequently receive questions about pending and prospective Free Trade Agreements with our trading partners. This one comes from Josh in Virginia. He writes:

"Dear USTR Kirk, In May John Kerry sponsored a Senate Resolution (S.RES.136) "expressing the sense that the U.S. should initiate negotiations to enter into a Free Trade Agreement with the Republic of Georgia." Has the USTR investigated the possibility of such an agreement? What is the USTR's stance on the issue?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:

"Thank you for your inquiry, Josh.

In 2007, we concluded a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with Georgia aimed at strengthening and expanding bilateral trade and investment. The agreement establishes a United States-Georgia Council on Trade and Investment, which I chair along with the Georgian Minister of Economic Development. The United States and Georgia work through this forum to accomplish our mutual goals of augmenting and diversifying the products and services we trade and minimizing policies of protection and distortion.

I appreciate Senator Kerry's interest in negotiating a free trade agreement with Georgia. We work closely with members of the Senate and the House to assess appropriate ways to grow our trading relationships around the world. We are currently working to resolve outstanding issues with regard to our pending free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and Korea. We are also considering whether it would be advisable to launch additional free trade negotiations. At the same time, we continue to work with nations such as Georgia to maintain robust trade relations.

U.S. exports to Georgia have increased from just $16.5 million in 1992 to over $586 million in 2008. Similarly, imports from Georgia have grown from $7.3 million in 1992 to over $207 million in 2008. I am encouraged by this positive trend. I also appreciate the importance of promoting increased trade and investment with Georgia - particularly in the wake of last year's conflict, as foreign trade and investment can help to improve stability and aid in Georgia's recovery from both the conflict and the global economic downturn.

You will find a link to our TIFA with Georgia, along with other similar agreements, here on the USTR website."