Page last updated at 11:21 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

US to get tough on trading rules

Ron Kirk
Ron Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, sees himself as a "raging pragmatist"

Ron Kirk, the man poised to become the US's top trade official, has said the Obama administration's priority will be ensuring countries obey trade rules.

This marks a significant departure from the Bush presidency, when more emphasis was put on negotiating trade deals.

Mr Kirk was answering questions at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on his nomination for US Trade Representative.

He said he would focus on ensuring that trade partners play by existing trade rules in areas such as labour rights.

'Deal fever'

"I don't come to this job with deal fever, and we're not going to do deals just for the sake of doing some," said Mr Kirk.

"This administration's starting point on trade will be to ensure the strongest possible enforcement of existing rules and increase the transparency of current and future trade agreements."

Describing himself as a "raging pragmatist", Mr Kirk promised a big push to ensure that countries live by the commitments they have made in international trade pacts.

He said he wants to use trade as a force to improve worker rights and environmental standards around the world.

'Step away'

Mr Kirk also suggested that the Obama administration could walk away from the trade agreement currently in place with South Korea.

While conceding that the deal represents "one of the biggest opportunities we have", Mr Kirk said that "the agreement as it is simply isn't fair and if we don't get it right, we'll be prepared to step away".

He also said he would work with Congress to resolve obstacles to trade deals with Colombia and Panama.

All three agreements would undergo a comprehensive review, he said.

The former mayor of Dallas is expected to win Senate confirmation for the position of the US's top trade official this week.

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