THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. I’m pleased to congratulate a distinguished public servant, Rob Portman, on becoming our new United States Trade Representative.
It’s an honor to be with Rob’s dad, as well as Jane and Jed and Will and Sally. Glad you all are here. It’s always great when our Trade Representative has teenagers in the house. (Laughter.) It helps him become a skilled negotiator. (Laughter.) I appreciate the other members of the Portman family who have joined us.
I thank members of my Cabinet who are here — Josh Bolten, thank you for coming. I appreciate Peter Allgeier, who is the Deputy U.S. Trade Minister. Peter, good to see you, sir. I want to thank the members of Congress who came — David Camp from Michigan, Paul Ryan from Wisconsin — and Janna. I appreciate — I’m not through yet. (Laughter.) And Melissa Hart. Rick Lazio, former member, thank you for coming.
I want to thank the ambassadors who are here, Diplomatic Corps — embajadores de Central America, as well as other ambassadors — welcome.
Ambassador Portman will be carrying on the superb work done by Bob Zoellick. Under Ambassador Zoellick’s outstanding leadership, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office has worked with Congress to pass trade promotion authority. We’ve completed free trade agreements with twelve nations on five continents. And those agreements will open a combined market of 124 million consumers for America’s farmers, small businesses and manufacturers. I want to thank all the men and women at the USTR for the good work they have done.
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Ambassador Portman is the right man to carry on this important work. He has a great record as a champion of free and fair trade. In his early days as an attorney, he specialized in international trade law. Throughout his time in Congress, he built a reputation as a steadfast proponent of the power of open markets to spread hope and prosperity around the world. As an Ohioan, Rob knows how much American farmers and workers depend on our export markets and how the expansion of agreements around the world can contribute to our economy here at home.
To advance our trade agenda, we have three priorities in the months ahead. Our first trade priority is to pass the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA. That is an important priority of this administration, and it should be an important priority of the United States Congress. Last week I met with the six Presidents from the nations. We all share an interest in prosperity for our people and peace in the region, and CAFTA gives us an historic opportunity to advance these common goals.
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The agreement does four key things: It will level the playing field for American farmers and businesses. It will help our economy. It will make the region more competitive with Asia. And it will strengthen democracy in our backyard. At the moment, about 80 percent of imports from the region already enter the United States duty-free. Our market is open to the goods from CAFTA nations. CAFTA will open the region’s markets of 44 million consumers to our goods and our services and our crops. CAFTA will also lower barriers in key segments like textiles. This would put CAFTA countries and America in a better position to compete with low-cost producers in Asia.
As it opens the Western Hemisphere markets, CAFTA will also bring the stability and security that can only come from freedom. Today, a part of the world that was once characterized by unrest and dictatorship now sees its future in free elections and free trade, and we must not take these gains for granted. These are small nations, but they are making big and brave commitments, and America needs to continue to support them as they walk down the road of openness and accountability. By transforming our hemisphere into a powerful free trade area, we will promote democratic governance and human rights and the economic liberty for everyone. CAFTA is a really important piece of legislation.
Our second trade priority is to encourage the Doha Development Agenda now being pursued by the World Trade Organization. This new framework is the largest negotiation of its kind in history, and it would reduce and eliminate tariffs in key industry sectors, and unfair agricultural subsidies, and open the global market in services.
Finally, our third trade priority is to ensure that those who sign trade agreements live up to their terms. China’s membership in the World Trade Organization has been a good thing for America. Our exports to China have increased 81 percent since China’s entry into the WTO. When it joined the WTO, China also agreed to the rules of international trade, and it’s in the interest of both China and the United States for China to abide by them.
One reason I selected Ambassador Portman for this job is because I know he’ll work to see that our farmers and our workers and service providers are treated fairly. Ambassador Portman will work to ensure that China stops the piracy of U.S. intellectual property, lifts the barriers that are keeping our goods and services out of China, and demonstrates its commitment to transparency and distribution rights for our products.
America is a nation founded on the idea of open exchange, and free and fair trade is a win-win for all sides. By opening new markets, we’ll increase prosperity for our small businesses and farmers and manufacturers, and create jobs for American workers. By enforcing trade laws and agreements, we will ensure a level playing field for America’s workers. American workers can compete with anybody, any time, anywhere when the rules are fair.
Rob Portman is America’s Trade Representative; he’s also my friend. I know his integrity and his wisdom and his dedication. And I know he’s the right man to carry out our bold agenda at this important moment for world trade.
I want to thank you all again for coming. Congratulations, Rob. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR PORTMAN: Thank you all. And thank you, Mr. President, for those remarks, and for the extraordinary opportunity that you’ve given me to be able to make a positive difference in people’s lives through promoting that very ambitious trade agenda you just outlined. And I want to thank Andy Card, my dear friend and the Chief of Staff, for being willing to swear me in today. In the first Bush administration, I had the pleasure of working under Mr. Card, and I now have the opportunity to work with him again, and I look forward to it.
I’m so glad that so many friends and family are able to be here today, Mr. President. This is a neat opportunity for me to be able to say thank you to so many of them. I’m particularly grateful, of course, to my family — my wife Jane, our three kids, Jed, Will and Sally. And per your comments about negotiations, let me tell you, these three are superb negotiators. (Laughter.) I just hope I’m half as good at negotiating access for U.S. products as I am, and have become, on allowances and curfews. (Laughter.) If I’m that good, I’ll do a good job for you.
I’m grateful to my family because they have allowed me to pursue the privilege of public service, despite the sacrifices, but even more grateful that they’ve encouraged me and supported me in this. They’ve all given this job their blessing. Will Portman has taken to calling me TROTUS — Trade Representative of the United States. (Laughter.) Jane has become the First Lady of Trade. And I’m very, very proud of them.
I’m also glad my dad was able to be here today. He’s also been very encouraging of my work in public service even though he’s a small business guy. He started a business from scratch and taught us the values of hard work and ethics. And I’m delighted he’s here today. And, of course, the same is true of my brother, Win, who’s here, and my sister, Jenna, and their wonderful families who have also joined us.
I also see I’ve got some constituents here from back home, Mr. President, and it’s great to have them here. My friends from Ohio who have gathered for this special day are the people who gave me the opportunity to serve in Congress, and gave me the opportunity now to be able to serve our nation in this capacity. I will be forever grateful to them.
Finally, I want to acknowledge my congressional staff — the most incredible staff, the best on the Hill — and my colleagues who are here. I see these three colleagues that you mentioned earlier — all three of them. (Laughter.) And there are others who are going to join us at the reception. They’re from both Houses and both parties, and they are good friends. And I will be seeing lots of them, because, as this last couple of weeks has taught me, I’ll be spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill, and I look forward to that.
In the last two weeks, in fact, Mr. President, my team and I have been very busy. In fact, the day after I was confirmed, you sent me on a plane for Europe where I met with trade ministers from all around the world. And there, I worked with our trade partners to rejuvenate the ongoing global negotiations you just talked about, called the Doha Development Agenda. By reducing barriers to trade across the board, Doha has the potential to substantially expand U.S. exports and also to spread hope and opportunity to the developing world. And when we were in Europe 10 days ago, we were able to make a major breakthrough to be sure that that Doha Development Agenda continues on track.
Doha talks are one part of a more comprehensive trade agenda that I will pursue, as the President has laid out: First, to expand export opportunities by opening markets around the world; second, to be sure that we are enforcing our trade agreements and our trade laws; and third, to spread economic and political freedom. By opening new markets for American workers and farmers, we create more and better-paying jobs right here at home. In fact, over 12 million American jobs now are supported by exports, and those jobs pay about 15 percent higher than the average wage. One in every three acres of American farmland is planted for export, and one in every five manufacturing jobs in this country is dependent on the export of our products.
Our first opportunity to open new markets is the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement. It’s a classic win-win situation. We have the opportunity here to open new markets for our workers, for our farmers, for our service providers, while, at the same time, leveling the playing field with a region that already enjoys mostly duty-free access to the United States. At the same time, we can help lift people out of poverty in Central America and the Dominican Republic, and we can help solidify those fragile democracies and staunch allies.
This is a situation where the Congress should have an incentive to move, and move quickly, to approve the agreement, because it’s good for our workers and farmers, service providers, and it’s also good for those countries. If we turn down this agreement, we are taking away opportunities for our workers, and we are turning our backs on good neighbors who need our help.
Opening new markets is critical, but we must also ensure that our trading partners play by the rules. To ensure that, I will use all the tools available to us. This includes consultation and negotiation, but, when appropriate, it also means taking legal action to enforce our rights and to defend American interests.
A top priority of mine will be China. The President already mentioned this and I concur with him that China’s entry into the WTO was, and remains, in the best interests of the United States. It brought China into a rules-based system, which is very important. It also allowed us to significantly expand U.S. exports, good and services. But our trade relationship with China also presents challenges. We face a trade deficit that is too high, in part because the Chinese do not always play by the rules. I have already begun a top-to-bottom review of China trade issues, and I will work closely with Congress to see that American workers, farmers and businesses are treated fairly.
Finally, Mr. President, as you articulate better than anyone, trade is central to our freedom agenda. Freer trade means more open, transparent markets, undercuts corruption and cronyism, promotes prosperity. In doing so, it deepens the roots of democracy.
As a former congressman, I know that economic change and foreign competition can be difficult for people. We cannot ignore these concerns. But we also cannot retreat to economic isolationism. The evidence is overwhelming that free and fair trade is in the best interest of our economy and makes Americans better off. I believe the right way forward is smart economic engagement, opening markets, tough enforcement, and using trade as a powerful weapon to spread freedom.
Mr. President, you have a great team of dedicated professionals as USTR, some of whom are here today, and I am very proud to follow my friend, Bob Zoellick, in joining them to promote your ambitious agenda.
I thank you for the trust you’ve show in me and for this opportunity to serve. I will give you and the American people my very best. Thank you.