US business awaits Obama decision on trade chief

WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - U.S. business lobbyists urged President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday to show his support for free trade by choosing a chief negotiator who will move aggressively to open markets for exports.

"More than anything, his USTR (U.S. trade representative) pick is going to be a signal about how he's going to move forward on trade," said Christopher Wenk, senior director of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Obama has raised business community concerns by criticizing Bush administration trade deals with Colombia and South Korea and promising to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement to add new labor, environment and investment provisions.

He has also vowed to take a tougher stance on trade with China and to end tax breaks that he says have encouraged companies to move jobs overseas.

Those same themes proved popular with voters in U.S. congressional elections, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch said in a new report.

The group, one of the fiercest critics of Bush administration trade policies, said its analysis showed a net gain of 26 seats in the House of Representatives and four in the Senate for lawmakers who want trade reforms.

Wenk acknowledged a number of free trade candidates took a beating in Tuesday's election, but said it was too early to say for sure how new lawmakers would vote.

"We want to move forward with a bipartisan trade agenda and we're going to be reaching out our arms to both President-elect Obama and the U.S. Congress," Wenk said.


Obama is expected to move quickly to announce his selection for Treasury secretary and other top economic slots. But typically the job of U.S. trade representative is often one of the last to be filled.

Daniel Tarullo, a Georgetown University law professor who has advised Obama on trade issues, is thought by many Washington lobbyists to be to a top candidate for the job.

Tarullo worked for former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s -- first as an assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs and later as a White House adviser.

Other possible candidates include Mike Wessel, a longtime aide to former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt and current member of U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional watchdog group.

Lael Brainard, an international economics adviser in the Clinton White House now at the Brookings Institution, spoke for the Obama campaign at a debate on trade policy, prompting speculation she could be in line for an administration job.

Several argue Obama should tap a politician like former Rep. Cal Dooley, a California Democrat, since working with Congress would be a big part of the job.

However, Dooley's support for Bush administration trade deals makes him an unpopular choice with labor groups.

Some business lobbyists want Obama to consider veteran U.S. trade negotiators Peter Allgeier and Rufus Yerxa for the post.

Allgeier is the current U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. Yerxa was a deputy U.S. trade representative in the Clinton administration and has been a deputy director general of the WTO since 2002.

"Either one of those would be fantastic choices, as would some of the other names bandied about," said Doug Goudie, director of international trade policy for National Association of Manufacturers.

That includes Stuart Eizenstat, who held the job of deputy Treasury secretary and other senior economic posts in the Clinton administration, Goudie said. (Editing by Jackie Frank)