Catering to a Congress that is largely hostile to international trade, USTR nominee Ron Kirk used his confirmation hearing testimony to assure the Senate Finance Committee that the administration plans to take a tougher stance on trade this year. Instead of focusing the trade agenda on looking for new opportunities to open markets with willing trade partners and leading multilateral trade negotiations to an ambitious conclusion, the administration vows to make trade policy “socially accountable.” Not only does this mean the U.S. will more aggressively use enforcement measures to protect special domestic interests, but will likely result in trade policy becoming less transparent as it is used as a vehicle to export U.S.-style labor and environmental regulations around the world rather than continue to efficiently open markets.

America needs those open markets. More than 30 percent of the U.S. economy – and millions of American jobs – depend on trade. With both the U.S. and global economy struggling to recover from the current economic downturn, America needs more than ever to strive to keep the wheels of trade greased. Promises to use trade policy to protect special interest groups, threats of aggressive trade enforcement, and intentions to use trade policy as a means to solve non-trade policy issues will not only fail to protect U.S. interests in the international economy, but also undermine America’s ability to lead and shape the global economy in the future.