Rob Portman’s Departure from USTR and Implications for Doha Round: Multiple Views

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Evelyn Iritani of the Los Angeles Times wrote an interesting piece on Rob Portman’s departure as U.S. Trade Representative to serve as Joshua Bolten’s successor at the Office of Management and Budget.
Susan Schwab, who is now one of three Deputy USTRs, will be succeeding Portman as America’s third female U.S. Trade Representative — following Carla Hills and Charlene Barshefsky.
But Iritani quotes President Bush, Peter Mandelson, Asst. Commerce Secretary Israel Hernandez and me on the implications for the Doha Trade Round from Portman’s departure. It’s an interesting contrast:

George Bush

Bush credited Portman, his trade representative for the last 11 months, with breathing new life into the so-called Doha round of international trade negotiations. He indicated that Schwab’s elevation to chief trade negotiator would maintain continuity at the trade representative’s office.

Steven Clemons

Steven C. Clemons, executive vice president of the New America Foundation*, said Portman’s move showed that the administration was focusing on domestic budget issues and not trade.
“It signals the [Doha] round is dead,” Clemons said. “No one is investing any political capital in it. . . It’s just a sign that trade is not going to be a front-burner item.”

Peter Mandelson

Peter Mandelson, chief trade negotiator for the European Union, lamented Portman’s departure at a critical juncture. “We will of course manage without him,” Mandelson said. “But at this stage in the round, it would have been easier to manage with him.”

Israel Hernandez

By contrast, Israel Hernandez, assistant Commerce secretary for trade promotion, said the substitution of Schwab for Portman marked a “natural continuation” that “won’t in any way impede our progress on trade negotiations.”

This is not a big deal. The collection of contending views and how “spin” is embedded in everyone’s perspective, even my own, just caught my eye.
More later.
— Steve Clemons
* note that I am now Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, not Executive Vice President which I was for the previous six years until last year.

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