- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Peter F. Allgeier took over as acting U.S. trade representative yesterday while the White House continued to consider a permanent replacement to be the country’s top trade envoy.

The 14th U.S. trade representative will face myriad challenges, including tough negotiations at the World Trade Organization, growing competition from China and a difficult fight in Congress to win approval for a free-trade pact with Central America.

Each front will affect U.S. manufacturers, farmers and workers, as well as relations with rising economic powers in Asia and South America.

A new U.S. trade representative will be central to the agenda, but the White House has kept quiet on a replacement.

“We don’t speculate on personnel announcements,” said Erin Healy, White House spokeswoman.

“It is a critical position and we will work to have a nomination in a timely manner,” she added.

Robert B. Zoellick was sworn in as deputy secretary of state yesterday, formally leaving the Cabinet-level post he had held since February 2001.

Mr. Allgeier, a career trade official who has been deeply involved in global and hemispherewide negotiations, will temporarily steer the USTR’s office.

His permanent replacement will inherit an agenda that is, for the most part, already well established.

Mr. Zoellick in four years wrapped up free-trade agreements with Singapore, Chile, Morocco and Australia.

A pact with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic faces strong opposition in Congress but is expected to come up for a vote this year.

Negotiations on new deals, with Panama, three Andean nations, five nations in southern Africa, two Persian Gulf nations and Thailand are under way.

WTO negotiations, among 148 nations, were formally started in 2001 and administration officials hope to settle major differences in the body by the end of this year.

Mr. Zoellick managed but was not able to settle rising trade tension with China, and many in Congress are pushing for a confrontation over a rising trade deficit, China’s rampant production of counterfeit goods and perceived currency manipulation.

“I think all signs point toward a serious trade confrontation with China,” said William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a pro-trade business group. “Heading that off is going to take adroit management.”

Potential successors to Mr. Zoellick include Grant Aldonas, undersecretary for international trade at the Commerce Department; Josette Sheeran Shiner, deputy U.S. trade representative; Gary Edson, deputy assistant to the president for international economic affairs and a deputy national security adviser; and Robert M. Kimmitt, executive vice president for global public policy at Time Warner.

Mrs. Shiner is a former managing editor of The Washington Times.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, and Allen Johnson, chief agricultural negotiator at USTR, also have been mentioned as replacements.

Reporters have been surprised by Mr. Bush’s picks in the past, including his November nomination of Carlos Gutierrez as commerce secretary. Mr. Gutierrez was a business executive little known in Washington.

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