US Trade Representative Ron Kirk to step down, successors eyed

Ron Kirk

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Tuesday he was stepping down as the nation's top trade official in late February, opening up a plum economic post as President Barack Obama searches for more women and minorities for his Cabinet.

White House international economic affairs adviser Mike Froman had been considered the front-runner to succeed Kirk, but sources familiar with his thinking said he was likely to stay in his current job, which allows him to weigh in on issues ranging from energy and climate change to trade and international finance.

One source familiar with the situation identified Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard, Commerce Under Secretary for International Affairs Francisco Sanchez and US Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg as candidates for the USTR job.

Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, Texas and early Obama supporter, oversaw congressional approval of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. He also completed negotiations on Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization.

"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," Obama said in a statement praising his friend and golfing companion.

Leading the small, dedicated team of professional negotiators at the US Trade Representative's office "has been no less than my greatest professional privilege," Kirk said in a statement that gave no detail of his future plans.

"In President Obama's first term, trade has been a major part of this administration's efforts to support American jobs right here at home. I am proud of USTR's contribution to America's ongoing economic recovery," he said.

Other possible candidates to succeed Kirk include Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis and the US ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Michael Punke.

TWO JOBS TO FILL

Obama, who is under pressure to name more women and minorities to his second-term Cabinet, may also look outside the administration to fill both the USTR job and that of Commerce secretary, which has been filled on an "acting" basis since John Bryson stepped down last year.

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