Rumor Mill: Obama to Appoint Tradophobic USTR?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/05/2008 07:49:00 AM
I am massively entertained by the notion that those embracing anti-trade policies are politically "progressive." Since when did a rich country implementing policies that clearly hurt the world's poor constitute progressive policy? If anything, it's regressive--the sort of thing that allows the US and France to maintain agricultural subsidies at the expense of those in the third world. You know, like Obama's professed attitude toward Kenyan farmers. The reason I am grinding this axe for the umpteenth time is due to rumors of the impending selection of Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) as the US Trade Representative, replacing Susan Schwab. Our friends Ben Muse and the IELP have gathered the rather voluminous commentary on what is, as of yet, still an unannounced appointment.

In a manner of speaking, it's difficult to pin him down on the matter of trade liberalization--just as Obama is. From BusinessWeek we have the following excerpt:
In Congress, Becerra has had a mixed record on trade issues; the libertarian Cato Institute says he voted against measures that would have increased trade barriers 65% of the time. While he voted for Nafta, he later said he regrets having done so. More recently, he voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, but did vote for a trade pact with Peru. At times he has been highly critical of the global trading system, calling it “broken completely” in 2006 before voting against a trade deal with Oman. “It’s troubling; to oppose Nafta is in many ways to lash out symbolically against trade,” without understanding the benefits of that agreement says Philip Levy, a former Bush administration trade official now with the American Enterprise Institute. “You want the chief person who has to make the case to the American public for trade to recognize what those agreements did.”
I will not spill excessive ink here as the appointment isn't a done deal. My question about him or whoever Obama ultimately chooses as USTR is this: Why would Obama appoint a USTR who will adopt an activist [I almost typed "recidivist" but thought better of it] attitude toward trade after choosing a business-friendly economic team of Geithner, Summers, etc? Is it a sop to the organized labor / tradophobic set? If so, won't the USTR be at constant loggerheads with Obama's economic advisers? It doesn't add up unless your line of thought is the same as mine--Obama himself is conflicted between choosing "experienced" economic hands to work through this financial crisis and giving a bone to the protectionist elements who've helped get him elected.

And yes, I still believe including labor and environmental standards in trade deals can facilitate backdoor protectionism.

UPDATE: This being the International Political Economy Zone, I must point out that Becerra is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Obama has been faulted for installing few Hispanics to high-level posts (perhaps aside from Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce), and appointing Becerra would go some way towards ameliorating this perceived deficiency. Likewise, former Washington State Governor Gary Locke is also said to be in the running for USTR as there is still no major Asian-American appointee.