December 19, 2008 / 8:55 PM / 9 years ago

Trade deals must protect environment: Obama

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will insist on strong protections for the environment and for workers in future trade deals, President-elect Barack Obama said on Friday as he introduced his nominee to be chief U.S. trade negotiator.

Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk “will help make sure that any agreement I sign as president protects the rights of all workers, promotes the interests of all Americans, strengthens American businesses, and preserves the planet we all share,” Obama said at a news conference in Chicago.

The focus on what Kirk described as a “values-driven” trade agenda could complicate efforts to complete the 7-year-old Doha round of world trade talks.

Many developing countries are suspicious of efforts to include binding labor and environmental provisions in trade pacts because they believe they could be used as an excuse by rich countries to block imports.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama (C) announces his appointees during a news conference in Chicago, December 19, 2008. L-R, Ron Kirk as United States Trade Representative, U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor, U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation, and Karen Mills as Administrator of the Small Business Administration. REUTERS/John Gress

Obama has promised one of his first acts as president would be to call the president of Mexico and prime minister of Canada to begin negotiations to “fix NAFTA” by adding stronger labor and environmental provisions.

Although Kirk is little known in global trade circles, Obama said Kirk’s experience as a big city mayor from 1994 to 2001 prepared him to be U.S. trade representative.

“Ron helped steer one of the largest economies. He’s seen the promise of trade, but also its pitfalls, and he knows there is nothing inconsistent about standing up for free trade and standing up for American workers,” Obama said.

Obama opposes a free trade deal the Bush administration negotiated with Colombia on grounds that the staunch U.S. ally has not done enough to reduce murders of trade unionists.

He also wants to renegotiate a Bush administration trade deal with South Korea. Obama has said the pact would open the U.S. market to more South Korean cars without sufficiently opening that country’s market to more U.S. auto exports.

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