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Portman Gets Senate Nod for Head Trade Rep Post

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh releases hold on confirmation because Rep. Rob Portman promises action on China.

After Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh removed his hold on U.S. Trade Representative nominee Rob Portman, the former Ohio Republican representative was confirmed in the Senate by a voice vote.

Bayh was threatening to halt the vote until he was confident the trade office and Administration would get tough on China. He allowed the vote to go forward after receiving a personal commitment from Portman to get tough on China trade, including conducting a thorough examination of China's subsidy practice and a commitment from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley that Bayh's Stopping Overseas Subsidies (SOS) Act would be a key part of a hearing on U.S.-China trade issues held before July 15, 2005.

"My hold was never about Representative Portman's qualifications, it was an attempt the focus the attention of the Administration and the Congress on the problems of unfair trade," says Bayh. "Representative Portman's personal commitment to take several concrete steps to get tough on trade and Sen. Grassley's commitment to discuss my legislation during a Finance Committee hearing are clear signs of progress toward tougher enforcement of our trade agreements. These are key first steps, but I won't stop fighting until the SOS Act is law."

In a letter sent to Bayh Thursday, Portman wrote, "you have my commitment to give full consideration to S. 593, the Stopping Overseas Subsidies Act. I understand that this is a bipartisan effort and appreciate the concerns behind the legislation. As part of the review of China issues, and recognizing the special concerns that you and others have with subsidies, unfair trade practices including subsidies, will be included. Working with Secretary Gutierrez and others in the Administration, my goal, if confirmed, will be to maximize the effectiveness of our trade laws in leveling the playing field for American businesses and workers."

Portman also agreed to Bayh's request to include a study of China's system of subsidies as a part of his review of China trade policies, which will represent the federal government's first focused look into China's subsidy practices. Bayh says he hopes the results of Portman's study will provide the evidence necessary for the U.S. to take a tougher line toward China's illegal subsidies.

This week, Bayh offered his SOS legislation as an amendment to the highway bill and held the floor for several hours to focus attention on America's growing trade imbalance with China.

Portman also committed to Bayh that if confirmed as USTR, he would press China to honor its intellectual property commitments by more aggressively pursuing criminal prosecutions for counterfeiting and copyright piracy and work to eliminate China's unfair barriers to U.S. goods, with the goal of growing annual U.S. exports to China.

Earlier this month, Bayh placed a hold on Congresman Portman's nomination until Senate Leaders agreed to schedule a vote on the SOS Act, which would allow the U.S. to enforce its anti-subsidy laws against China. Bayh's decision grew out his frustration at the failure of the Administration and the Republican Leadership to deal with the problems of unfair trade practices. This was the first hold Bayh has placed on a nominee.

Portman will replace Robert Zoellick, who is now the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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