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Ambassador Kirk Op-Ed in Politico

Today, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk explains in an op-ed in Politico how President Obama is introducing a new era of American trade policy. Click here to read online or, read below.

A new era for U.S. trade policy
By Ron Kirk

President Barack Obama is set to sign into law four trade bills. A few pen strokes will start to open key markets in Asia and Latin America, supporting tens of thousands of U.S. jobs. They will aid U.S. workers harmed by global competition and strengthen our partnerships with the world’s poorest countries.

The trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, along with the renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance reforms and key preference programs, took a long road to passage — some say too long. But in taking the time to get these initiatives right, the president cleared a path to stronger long-term trade policy.

When the president signs these bills on Friday, the ceremony will signal more than the deals’ ratifications. It will validate this president’s approach to trade: more responsible and more responsive to Americans’ concerns. He is not only finding markets for made-in-America products but also credentialing trade as a driving force for U.S. jobs.

This administration inherited three trade agreements that Congress could not pass. They had languished for years past their signings. Attempting to advance them as-is would have been a waste of time. So we set out to make them better.

We began in 2009, with work that few noticed. At the president’s direction, my office sought input from the broadest possible range of stakeholders — what exporters and workers felt was right, and what they knew wasn’t good enough.

Armed with crucial new information, we acted.

Market access gaps had hindered the South Korea agreement. Months of tough negotiations — including the president’s decision not to cut a deal too soon in Seoul — yielded better results for U.S. automakers and workers. Our December 2010 agreement will help Ford, General Motors and Chrysler sell more cars in South Korea, supporting jobs at U.S. auto plants and all the way down the supply chain. That won unprecedented backing from car manufacturers and the United Auto Workers.

Violence against Colombian labor leaders had stopped that agreement cold. In August 2010, Juan Manuel Santos and the former labor leader Angelino Garzon took the reins of Colombia’s government, committing to further worker protections and to address past wrongs. In February, our president sent a team to Bogota.

Intensive discussions yielded a Colombian Action Plan on Labor Rights; Colombia has now passed an array of new measures to protect the rights of workers there.

Meanwhile, Panama’s designation as a tax haven, along with labor concerns, had stalled that pact. Over three years, Panama took steps, at our urging, to resolve labor issues. Simultaneously, our Treasury Department negotiated a Tax Information Exchange Agreement that entered into force in April.

The Obama administration made sure these agreements better advanced the interests of U.S. businesses, farmers, ranchers and workers. Congress affirmed that work with its historic bipartisan support.

Our insistence on renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance reforms was just as crucial. TAA has traditionally been in place as trade agreements pass — helping workers, firms, farmers and fishermen shift to new opportunities.

Americans have rejected a trade agenda that refuses to acknowledge those hurt by global competition — sometimes by our own trade agreements. After Congress failed to renew TAA in February, we made it clear that we wanted this program restored.

The legislation, approved with 307 votes in the House, maintained our 2009 TAA improvements — for example, covering Americans working in the services sector in addition to U.S. manufacturing workers.

This president has gotten trade policy right — and the proof is in the bipartisan passage of these job-supporting bills.

But we’re not done. These initiatives are the leading edge of a new trade agenda that will continue to open markets, reduce barriers, level the playing field and champion America’s working families.

Beyond these agreements, we will continue to aggressively enforce America’s trade rights. We are intent on ensuring China, and every other global partner, play by the rules so that America gets a fair chance to compete.

As the U.S. hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Hawaii next month, we’ll seek market-opening outcomes. In Honolulu, we also hope to announce the broad outlines of an agreement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, designed to provide a strong framework for a landmark 21st-century accord.

And we will keep pushing for meaningful agreements and maximum results with World Trade Organization members old and new.

As always, this work will happen in close consultation with Congress and stakeholders. Together, we can all craft trade policies that increase U.S. jobs and show the value of trade for America’s economic future.