- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Obama administration, looking to capitalize on an improving economy, rising poll numbers and a suddenly more receptive Congress, went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to ask lawmakers to give the president more leeway to crack down on unfair trade practices of China and other countries.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the president’s top trade official, appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee to urge members to act quickly on legislation that would enable the administration to raise tariffs on countries violating trade deals.

At the hearing, Mr. Kirk asked lawmakers to quickly approve legislation moving through both the House and the Senate that would overcome a federal appeals court ruling last December restricting the administration’s ability to impose punitive duties on imports.

The legislative push on trade issues comes on the heels of Mr. Obama’s February victory in the standoff with congressional Republicans over the extension of the payroll-tax cut and last year’s bipartisan deal on long-delayed trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Mr. Kirk also touted a new trade enforcement unit, the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center, that Mr. Obama outlined Tuesday during a speech to the United Auto Workers.

The president said the unit will help level the playing field for U.S. workers.

Rep. Sander M. Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, applauded the administration’s move to crack down on unfair practices and urged the new unit to immediately focus on China.

“I urge the administration to ensure that the ITEC is designed and equipped to fundamentally alter the way trade cases are developed and prosecuted,” the Michigan Democrat said. “I also urge the ITEC to focus immediately on China’s … lack of transparency and use of intimidation as a trade policy tool.”

Mr. Kirk said the White House also wants more authority to negotiate trade deals.

“We will work with the committee,” Mr. Kirk told reporters. “But … we’re going to have to have trade promotion authority and at the right time we’ll work out the terms of that when the leadership of the committee comes together.”

Mr. Kirk said concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement being negotiated with countries such as Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam is a top priority for the president.

“Of course, we have and will continue to consult closely with Congress on the TPP,” he said.

 • This article includes wire reports