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President Bush Nominates Susan Schwab
to Replace Rob Portman as U.S. Trade Representative

On April 18, 2005, President George W. Bush nominated Susan Schwab to be the United States Trade Representative, Schwab has served as a Deputy U.S. Trade Representative for the past five months, working closely with the Rob Portman. Susan. Schwab started her government career as an agriculture negotiator during the “Tokyo Round” of negotiations in the 1970s when (by her own account) she walked into the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative looking for her first job. She served in various government, academic, and private-sector settings before returning to USTR at the end of last year. Schwab’s nomination was sent to the Senate for confirmation on May 3

Although only serving for eleven months, the outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman was well- regarded for his intellect and political skills. Prior to serving as Trade Representative, Portman was a respected member of Congress representing the 2nd district of Ohio, near Cincinnati, and served as an influential member of the House Ways and Means Committee. As Trade Representative, he used his low-key charm and close relationships with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to win congressional approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a task that some had thought to be nearly impossible only a few months before. He also saw through the ratification of trade agreements with Bahrain and Oman, and the completion of negotiations with Peru and Columbia. Portman is set to become the next Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Portman’s move from USTR to OMB has been interpreted as an indication that the Bush administration sees few prospects for successful completion of the so-called Doha Round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization. The Doha Round negotiations were launched in 2001, with the goal of substantially reducing trade barriers in a way that benefits the economic development of the world’s poorer nations. But the United States, the European Union, and the developing world negotiators at this time appear deadlocked on how to reduce agricultural subsidies and tariff barriers in the European Union, the United States, and Japan in order to open up these markets to developing world farmers and ranchers. On April 30, WTO members failed to meet a deadline for concluding a “framework agreement” for the Doha Round.

Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees trade policy, was quoted in the Washington Post with respect to Portman’s departure from USTR as saying that, “It’s bad news as for as the Doha round is concerned.”

This is not simply a matter of missed deadlines in the negotiations process. The deadlines were set in the first place to conclude a Doha Round agreement in time for the U.S. Congress to approve it under the expedited or “fast track” procedures of the Trade Promotion Authority law, which expires in June (July?) of 2007. The TPA law requires quick consideration of any agreement by Congress and an up-or-down vote on the agreement and implementing legislation, with no opportunity for amendments. The TPA law was enacted only with great difficulty by Congress in 2002 and its chances for renewal in 2007 are problematic.

Portman’s replacement, Susan Schwab is a well-liked, experienced, and intellectually-sharp trade negotiator. She does not yet have the same political stature in the eyes of members of Congress and of foreign trade negotiators as Rob Portman. Schwab is a former Dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Motorola executive, head of the Foreign Commercial Service at the Commerce Department, and legislative director for Senator John Danforth.

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