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Remarks of Ambassador Ron Kirk at the Retail Industry Leaders Association Logistics Conference

Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk

February 24, 2010
Retail Industry Leaders Association Logistics Conference
Orlando, Florida

*As Prepared for Delivery*


"Thank you all for having me. In particular, thank you to your President, Sandy Kennedy; your Vice President for Membership, Jenny Keehan; and your Vice President for Retail Operations, Casey Chroust, for organizing this event. It's great to be here.

"More than 43 million hard-working Americans owe their livelihoods in part to trade; many hundreds of thousands of them right here in Florida.

"As we speak, many of them are likely just arriving to work - sitting down at their desks or stepping out onto a factory floor. Today, they will build computers, package fertilizer, manufacture electronic parts, tend to citrus trees, and put in the hard work necessary to produce all kinds of American exports for sale around the world. Undoubtedly, those workers benefit from the global trading system.

"But they are hardly the only ones.

"American managers, marketers, and designers at firms like yours are working hard to establish American brands around the world. They are reaching out to billions of potential customers, opening stores in foreign countries and advertising American products in foreign tongues. And American retail workers are sourcing global products and selling global goods to American customers in every state.

"And the global supply chain does more than just create jobs. Trade also helps working Americans of every kind to stretch the family budget further. When they go to the grocery store, they can find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and healthy foods, year-round. When they go shopping for clothes to fit their growing kids, they can purchase those clothes more economically. And when they stock their kids' backpacks or outfit them for college, they can find everything from pencils to computers at affordable prices.

"As United States Trade Representative, I am working hard to ensure that Americans continue to reap all the benefits of trade - more and better opportunities in the international marketplaces, more and better jobs here at home, and more choices at lower prices in their local shopping center.

"The Obama Administration is working to make policies that help us bring those benefits home to American families. We are working to make policies that help us retain the jobs that exist today. And we are working to make policies that will create new jobs for tomorrow.

"That is our commitment to American workers. We won't just do more trade; we're going to do trade better for working Americans and families.

"In his State of the Union address, President Obama set a goal to grow the American economy and support two million jobs by doubling American exports in five years. And he called for the creation of a National Export Initiative to support that goal.

"Under that Initiative, the Office of the United States Trade Representative is partnering with the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, and other federal agencies with one objective: to deliver the benefits of trade to more American farmers, ranchers, workers, and businesses. And that includes businesses like yours.

"Because through the National Export Initiative, USTR is going to be doing more of what we do best - tearing down trade barriers and opening up new markets for American businesses to grow and create jobs through trade. And the steps we are taking to boost domestic exports will also help to smooth the bumps in global supply chains and enable more of our businesses to bring in more of the affordable goods Americans want and need.

"Let me give you an example. Right now, we are seeking to resolve outstanding issues on the Colombian, Korean, and Panamanian Free Trade Agreements in an effort to move those forward at the appropriate time.

"When those agreements go into effect, they will create billions of dollars in new market access for American exporters. But they will also create new opportunities for American retailers by broadening potential sourcing opportunities as well as potential sales opportunities. For example, when implemented, the Panama Free Trade Agreement will not only slash tariffs, it will also eliminate certain Panamanian measures that restrict investment in retail trade to Panamanian nationals.

"We are also beginning negotiation of a new Trans-Pacific Partnership that will expand U.S. exports to the Pacific under a high-standard, 21st century trade agreement. Our goal is to ensure access to the burgeoning markets of the Asia Pacific for decades to come. But the TPP is not simply a means of securing additional export opportunities.

"Through the TPP we are aiming to integrate U.S. companies into emerging trade networks in the Asia Pacific and promote the development of efficient production and supply chains that include U.S.-based companies like yours. We are seeking to enhance transparency so your companies have access to information in TPP markets they need to effectively compete, to improve coherence and coordination of our regulatory regimes so your companies can efficiently compete in markets around the region, and to take other steps that will enhance competitiveness American companies both large and small. As we begin developing our positions for this negotiation, we welcome your input on the best ways to achieve these goals.

"At the same time, we are also taking into account the input we've received on existing programs. And we are working hard to ensure that American businesses and workers can make the most of those programs.

"We know you depend on our trade preference programs - from GSP to ATPA to AGOA to HOPE - for critical sourcing. These preference programs expand the choices available to American industries and consumers while also promoting economic opportunities in developing countries.

"We know these programs are important to you. And we also know that it has been difficult for American companies to plan ahead when it is unclear when and how all these programs will be renewed. So we are working closely with Congress as they consider legislation on a number of these programs.

"There are, of course, many different opinions on how these programs should be run - which products and countries should be covered, and how long their benefits should last. These are all important issues. And I look forward to working with you as we move towards the renewal and reform of these programs.

"We know you are bursting with ideas. We are eager to hear them. And when we hear a good idea, we are eager to act.

"For example, when a number of U.S. textile and apparel companies, brands, and retailers - a few of them RILA members - came to USTR to ask us what they could do to support Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, we put our heads together and came up with a new program that I announced just last week. That program, called Plus One for Haiti, will encourage new growth in Haiti and support efforts to rebuild by encouraging participating companies to source at least one percent of their products from Haitian textile manufacturers.

"That program just goes to show, when we put our heads together, we can achieve the kinds of results that we can all get behind - programs that uplift American businesses and American workers and leverage the power of trade to support global development.

"But sometimes, those positive results are harder to achieve than others. And when American rights and American jobs are at stake, USTR has not hesitated to use every legal means to defend those rights and jobs.

"During 2009, we challenged unjustified restrictions on U.S. exports of agricultural products in multiple countries, acted to implement a finding that Canada violated the softwood lumber agreement by imposing duties on softwood lumber imports, won direct distribution rights for American content companies in China, achieved Chinese compliance in an auto parts case where the government of China was applying discriminatory taxes to imports in an attempt to influence the location of production and sourcing, and filed suit over Chinese export quotas and duties on raw materials that harmed core U.S. industrial sectors from steel and aluminum to chemicals. In each of these areas and more, the Administration has taken actions under the legal remedies authorized by our trade agreements.

"Because in order to keep the flow of trade moving, we need to enforce our trade agreements. And we are working hard to show the American people that we will defend their hard-won trade trades. So that when we come to Americans with a new trade program or a new trade deal, they can trust us to deliver the benefits of that deal as well.

"Already, USTR's efforts to expand American trade opportunities through new market openings and enforcement of our rights around the world are paying off.

"The U.S. economy has begun to grow again. And in the last half of 2009, U.S. exports alone accounted for nearly half of that economic growth.

"At the same time, consumers have once again begun to open their pocketbooks, and consumer spending is also again on the rise at stores like yours.

"Both export growth and domestic spending growth are good news. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of total GDP, and we must continue to support the retail sector as we seek to generate economic revival and job growth.

"But as the President has said time and again, economic recovery cannot be driven solely by American consumption. America needs a new growth model going forward, one based on domestic competitiveness, exports, and investment as well consumption.

"So USTR is going to continue to push for more trade opportunities for American businesses and workers of every kind. And we want you to be involved in those efforts - to ensure that as we seek to build export-sector jobs we are also taking advantage of opportunities to create retail-sector jobs. Because we can't afford to leave any jobs on the table.

"With your input, we will continue to move forward with a trade agenda that will support new jobs across the country and new growth across industries, including yours. We will create new opportunities for American businesses and workers to succeed in both the international marketplace and in the local mall. And we will ensure that America remains a global economic leader.

"I look forward to working with you."