Contributing Lawyers


Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

United States

Susan Kohn Ross


Andrew Hudson

Obama Trade Policy

A high ranking Obama Administration official recently identified the four pillars of Obama's trade policy as the multilateral system, enforcing what was negotiated, free trade agreements, and how well does the trading system work for poor countries.

Regarding the multilateral system, the question is the agreement arising out of the DOHA Round seems closed. Can it be reopened and if so, how should it be changed? One big hurdle is access as relates to agricultural products. With manufacturing, there are rigid formulas, and services represent about 70% of the U.S. economy, but the DOHA Round barely commits anything to reducing barriers for services. Preliminary steps by the Obama Administration suggest there will be a greater emphasis on multilateralism, but as with all new administrations, we have to see how things develop in the long run.

As to free trade agreements, there are three agreements pending, Panama, Columbia and Korea. There is always an economic punch from one, but do these deliver enough? The one with Panama is most ready for Congressional submission. With Columbia, there are concerns about violence against labor unions, and with Korea, the big issues are autos, cosmetics, fiber options and non-tariff barriers.

In terms of enforcing what was negotiated, this involves deciding which cases will be submitted to the World Trade Organization's complaint procedures and revolve around such issues as phytosanitary certificates, non-tariff barriers, e.g., discriminatory regulations, taxes and standards, and trade revenue laws such as antidumping and countervailing duty.

Finally, as to how well the current trading system works for poor countries, trade is expanding but it is not as widespread as it could be according to this official. One area of expected concern in any Democratic administration is labor issues, but in addition, anti-corruption measures are critical, plus transparency in Customs procedures and administration. Preference programs are also a concern as they are subject to the whims of Congress.

Perhaps the key in the trade arena is market expansion resulting from increased public confidence, but that will only come once the economy turns around and there is plenty of multilateralism going on trying to make that happen.   

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