U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who led negotiations to complete trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, said he will leave President Barack Obama’s administration in late February.
Kirk, the first black mayor of Dallas, disclosed his plans today in an e-mailed statement in which he didn’t give a reason for departing.
“We have made great strides to bring about the president’s vision of a more robust, responsible and responsive trade policy,” Kirk, 58, said. “Trade has been a major part of this administration’s efforts to support American jobs right here at home.”
Kirk leaves his successor a raft of initiatives such as completing a Pacific-region trade deal, enforcing trade rules in dealing with China and strengthening U.S. economic ties in a pact with the European Union. While the White House hasn’t identified a successor, Obama may name Fred Hochberg, president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, as a replacement, according to person familiar with the matter.
The U.S. trade representative is a cabinet-level position that requires Senate confirmation. Kirk and Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson, a black woman, also are departing, leaving Attorney General Eric Holder and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as the remaining black aides among Obama’s cabinet-level officeholders.
While he didn’t give a reason for leaving in his statement, Kirk has previously cited personal and professional goals.
“I miss my house, I miss my family, I want to drive my car,” Kirk said after speaking at a conference in Washington on Sept. 19. “And I’d like to go make a little money.”
During four years with Obama, Kirk oversaw re-negotiation and congressional passage in October 2011 of free-trade agreements first negotiated by President George W. Bush’s administration. His office also took over another project begun by his predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and turned it into a major trade-policy goal of the Obama administration.
The regional trade pact, being forged by 11 nations including Mexico and Canada, would give the U.S. and its neighbors the opportunity to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994. Kirk’s successor will have to deal with whether to include Japan in the discussions, a move opposed by U.S. automakers including Ford Motor Co. (F:US) and General Motors Co. (GM:US), which have said the Asian country’s auto market should be more open to foreign competition.
Kirk led U.S. talks with EU officials on the possibility of a trade agreement with the 27-nation union.
The U.S. on Jan. 15 said it will begin negotiations with 20 trading partners to lower trade barriers in areas including financial services and telecommunications, a step toward a deal sought by companies including JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM:US), AT&T Inc. (T:US) and FedEx Corp. (FDX:US)
During Kirk’s tenure, the U.S. feuded with China over trade in tires, chicken parts, automobiles, electronic payments, rare- earth elements and clean-energy programs.
Kirk spent much of his time shoring up domestic support for Obama’s trade policy, including a goal to double exports from 2009 levels by the end of 2014. For the year ended Sept. 30, 2011, Kirk took 23 business trips, 17 of which involved domestic travel, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“There’s no question Ron delivered results for the American people and for our economy,” Obama said in an e-mailed statement. “As a former mayor, Ron was relentless in making the case to the American public that a balanced, thoughtful trade policy can contribute to a stronger economic future for America.”
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