Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Summing Up the President's Feelings on US Trade Policy

I've opined a few times that this Administration has demoted US trade policy in favor of domestic policy priorities and plain ol' beltway politics. And even as serious trade problems mount (like Section 421, Buy American, Mexican Trucking, and Farm Subsidies), I still get the feeling that the White House really would prefer that this darn trade stuff just went away, thankyouverymuch.

Monday's golf outing with President Obama and USTR Ron Kirk epitomizes my concerns pretty well, I think. The day before the Office of the USTR must submit a very important report advising the President on whether he should impose huge tariffs on Chinese tires, and two days before Kirk leaves for New Delhi to meet with other trade ministers in an attempt to revive the comatose Doha Round, he and the President went golfing. Umm, ok, fine. As I've mentioned before, I see nothing wrong with the President relaxing on the links (although the disparate media scrutiny of Obama's and Dubya's golf outings certainly bugs the hell out of me). But should the USTR really blow off a scheduled media debriefing on the New Delhi meetings to hang out with the First Duffer? As Reuters mentions:

Kirk had been scheduled to talk by telephone with reporters Monday about his trip to New Delhi this week to meet with other trade ministers on the Doha round of world trade talks.

Instead, Kirk went golfing with Obama and the Doha briefing was rescheduled for Tuesday.
Look, it was only a delay, and not an outright cancellation. And it's only a presser. I get all that. But it's still a clear signal of the importance of trade to this Administration. Just think of it this way: do you think for one second that the White House would ever, ever let Secretaries Sebelius or Chu cancel a significant press debriefing on ObamaCare or Cap-and-Trade in order to go golfing with the President? Would that ever happen?

The answer, of course, is no. The President cares too much about those issues and about keeping the press engaged, informed and happy. The White House would never want to risk appearing inconsiderate or detached on a policy they deem so critical. Obviously, they don't feel the same way about trade, despite growing concerns at home and abroad that the United States, the world's trade leader for the last 60 years, is now an also-ran, and as retaliation against US protectionism grows.

What a shame. For our sake, let's hope there are no golf courses anywhere near the site of the upcoming G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

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