Timothy Reif, general counsel to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, stressed the importance of enforcement in U.S. trade policy, speaking at an American Enterprise Institute event on Tuesday afternoon.
During his 20-minute presentation, he outlined the basic tenets of the Obama administration’s 2010 trade policy agenda, released March 1. Along with creating a stronger “rules-based trading system,” the policy agenda, which comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s promise in the State of Union speech to double exports by 2014, also highlights the importance of encouraging economic liberalization and promoting U.S. growth into new markets.
Reif said the United States needs to improve its bilateral relations with trading partners – especially China – to resolve trade disputes before taking them to the World Trade Organization. He noted that the WTO often takes up to three years to resolve cases.
Reif said the United States also needs to improve its ability to recognize problems before they unravel, highlighting intellectual property rights as a particular concern. He said the United States would benefit from moving forward on pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia.
"I happen to believe that if you address the substance of matters, the politics will be addressed as well," he said.
After Reif spoke, four panelists focused in on his remarks about the WTO.
Warren Maruyama of Hogan & Hartson, a former general counsel to the USTR, said that, though the United States has generally been successful in front of the WTO – at least when it brings the complaint – its success rate would decline if there was a rush of new litigation.
"It's a myth that there's a great number of WTO cases the USTR are sitting on,” Maruyama said.
Marc Busch, an associate professor with the Georgetown University Department of Government, agreed.
"We already have the low hanging fruit," he said.
James Bacchus of Greenberg Traurig, a former member of the Appellate Body of the WTO, said the United States could also avoid litigation by respecting the organization’s prior rulings, warning that the United States shouldn’t underestimate the power of developing countries in the WTO.
"We need to have the credibility to move forward and liberalize on a global basis," he said. "Trade enforcement is a two-way street. We are bound by the same rules as everyone else."
Alan Wolff of Dewey & LeBoeuf said the USTR is understaffed and needs more resources to efficiently analyze U.S. trade policy.
“We need to have enough people for enforcement,” he said.
The Obama administration has so far brought two cases to the WTO, continuing the decline in cases brought by the United States, Maruyama said. The Bush administration brought 29 cases, while the Clinton administration brought 57.