President's trade policy scrutinized at House hearing

House Ways and Means Committee members yesterday discussed President Barack Obama's trade policy at a hearing that included U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk rationalizing the president's agenda.  Kirk told the committee that Obama has said the United States will sign only trade agreements that are "enforceable and of the highest standard, in the interests of our workers, farmers, and businesses," but noted the U.S.-Korea agreement could be sent to Congress in a few weeks.

Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said that although the president "has often spoken about the merits of trade ... there is little to show for it."  Camp told Kirk he would like to see all three pending U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs) -- with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama -- considered in the next six months.

For the past two years, many have wondered what role trade plays in the Obama administration, Trade Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said.  The pending FTAs require immediate action, Brady commented, adding that the United States must move ahead on new initiatives.

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., noted the absence of rice from the pending South Korea FTA, citing the importance of the crop to Louisiana.  Procrastination on completing pending FTAs hurts U.S. prestige and credibility, Boustany said.

"We must have a more aggressive trade agenda -- one that creates jobs here at home, opens new markets, and expands our exports," Boustany added in a news release following the hearing.