USTR Ron Kirk
Remarks at Howard University
April 8, 2009
Ambassador Dawson thank you so much for your kind words in that introduction and I hope you will extend my congratulations to President — I’m sorry I’m from Texas, being this close to Louisiana we’re still going to call him “Ree-bo.” But please extend my congratulations to President Ribeau and the Howard family on his installation and thank you for your distinguished career. To be introduced by someone who is as highly regarded as you are, and truly a trailblazer in terms of our community of our outreach and interface with the world, is a true honor for me. And you’re also the first person either by intent or mistake to use the term “Your Excellency” in the same sentence as my name. I want you to know my family — the ambassador was correct in that I am very newly minted, I’ve only been in office for two weeks but my wife and entire family were here for my swearing in and my wife made it a point to meet every employee in my agency and threatened them with bodily harm if they call me anything but Ron or at best Mayor. So I appreciate that very much, but thank you for your kind words.
John thank you for your role in this, and Dean Harvey. To Bill Reinsch thanks for the great work Bill that you and your team do. I’ve heard nothing but the highest praise from our team at the USTR in terms of the support that we get from you and your organization. And Dean Hardy, I salute you for your great work with the Leadership Institute and thank you so much for hosting, having all of us here today. And thank all of you for being here. Welcome — I made the mistake of thinking I was going to acknowledge some of the former US Trade Rep family members that were here but I stopped counting at 4 or 5 of you. Wherever you are we love you, we miss you, come back to see us, we are thrilled that all of you are here.
I really was overjoyed when I found my first public appearance and remarks as U.S. Trade Rep would be with Howard University. This is a wonderful institution of great distinction not just in terms of being a Historically Black College and University but because of their leadership and innovation in so many programs in areas of leadership is manifest by Dean Harvey and Dean Hardy’s work. So I’m thrilled to be here.
Also excited because the world of international trade is one that is unique and a bit mysterious and unfortunately probably more so among people of color — young African Americans and Hispanics that may not look at this as a career. And so one of things we have sought to do is to demystify this world and pull the curtain back and make sure that all Americans are aware of the extraordinary opportunities not just for their business but for their careers. So we are starting a great new partnership with Howard University within our office. My new general counsel Tim Reif has spent over 20 years in this field within our office, the last ten working with Congressman Charlie Rangel on the hill, but we are creating and starting a great new partnership with Howard University’s Law School. We will have an “extern,” a student who will spend I guess the better part of their spring semester of their sophomore year and then hopefully if we don’t run them off, all of their senior year learning about the workings of our office. And I’m pleased that our first “extern” is with us today, she is…Alexandra, and I should know this — my daughter’s name is Alexandra — Alexandra Whittaker, who’s a second year law student and she is going to be hopefully one of those great leaders that we reference.
I’m also pleased, Ambassador you have another very distinguished honored graduate Myesha Ward who has joined our team as our Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative. She’s got a very long title for intergovernmental affairs and public [Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison office] — stand up Myesha — she is a ’97 distinguished graduate of Howard and we are pleased to have her as part of the U.S. Trade Representative family as well.
I’m also pleased to be here because this is at least, for the first time out of the box, for my debut performance, this is a pretty good audience for me. I think you all get it. I feel like I’m preaching to the choir very much, and to some degree a lot of what you hear me say is going to be an echo of what you heard Dean Harvey speak to and Bill Reinsch because we all understand part of America’s ability to be competitive in the future and the world is going to drive from our incredible innovation. And a big part of helping to fuel that innovation is going to make sure that we provide the protection to those young entrepreneurs and innovators. So many of you understand that inherently I just want you to know that the United States Trade Representative’s office, we appreciate having your kinship and we look forward to working with all of you.
As Dean Harney said, trade is a very large part of our U.S. economy. I’m not so sure that we spend enough time talking about just how significant trade is. Our most recent figures for 2008 show that exports accounted for over 13 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. As troubled as our economy was, if you want to put it another way, take out that 13 percent, imagine how much worse we would be doing.
Not only is that an important figure for you, but if you drill down at it, it’s one reason I think it’s so important to be in conferences like this — not only is trade a big part of our economy, but of that trade, 97 percent of our exporters are small to medium size businesses. So 97 percent of our exporters employ fewer than 500 people. So it means that those small and medium businesses which generally are those that are innovating, that are the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, are a huge part of not only driving our current economy but can be a great part of helping us turn around our economy and growth for the future.
President Obama and I inherently understand that, and as you know President Obama’s top priority necessarily is turning around our American economy. But we both believe that innovation and creativity that you’re going to spend most of this afternoon talking about can be the cornerstone of our future economic development. The brainpower of American researchers, scientists, engineers, manufacturing workers, are already working to solve some of the world’s most significant challenges from healthcare crises like AIDS and heart disease to energy crises like climate change. America’s industrial sector is ready to produce the solutions — from sophisticated chemicals to precision components.
But as we reference the President’s Trade Policy which we released several weeks ago, one key to our economic success will be our ability to trade that innovation and creativity — through products, services, and our intellectual property — in a rules-based system around the world.
So as you consider your topics for today, I hope in your discussions that you will talk about how innovative global engagement in the global marketplace can help grow jobs and help our country’s competitiveness.
Now as you heard the Ambassador reference I spent 7 years as mayor of Dallas, and I served as mayor from 1995 to 2001, which really is not that significant in terms of today’s topic but for the fact I was blessed to become mayor of Dallas a year after we had passed the North American Free Trade Agreement. And you didn’t have to be real smart to be a mayor of Dallas and just kind of look at the map and see Canada up here and Mexico here and think this could be a really good thing for us. And so we really vested heavily in working in a partnership to make sure that our small and medium sized businesses benefitted from this incredible opportunity just as larger companies like Texas Instruments and EDS and others.
But we also realized that the lifeline of sort of that technological genius and work line was beginning to come to an end. So we partnered with our medical systems and our medical community to begin work on how we could incubate a biotechnology hub. And again it wasn’t any real genius on our part, we were blessed to have the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center right in the heart of Dallas. So we had the component, the essential component of the right infrastructure to begin to talk about being a technology hub, which is a great research institution with a lot of gifted bright young minds in place.
As I look at my work as United States Trade Representative and our responsibility to make sure that we have the right international infrastructure in place to protect our trade rules we have to make sure that we have that right infrastructure in place as well.
We know that the world is hungry for American ideas. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers now live outside of the United States. Forgive me, I still talk so much like a Mayor. But my former police chief would say, “That’s a clue.” So, you know, this isn’t that hard. If you’re in business, I mean it is wonderful — we have great creativity here we are the greatest economy in the world but if you’re going to grow, we’re going to continue to create good jobs here, then you’re going to have to be thinking globally, because that’s where 95 percent of our marketplace and potential for growth is.
So the products and services that will flow from this new innovation, these new ideas, if they’re going to be key to being part of our economic growth it makes our work that much more imperative to make sure that we do so in a rules-based trading environment. And particularly as it relates to intellectual property goods and services. Because of the uniqueness of living in a world now in which everyone is connected to everyone else, which everyone can relate to anyone by a keystroke — intellectual property, goods, new ideas, new innovations, can hit the global marketplace with one stroke on your keyboard. But if we don’t have the right rules and protections in place unfortunately they can vanish just as quickly.
So part of what we’re doing today, and what you’re going to talk about, what we’ll be working on, is not just an intellectual discourse. This is really important critical work to make sure that we have the right protections for these new ideas and services that we want to put into the marketplace. So we have to all work collectively to ensure that when America’s goods and services and our intellectual property arrive in world markets that they benefit from safeguards similar to those we enjoy here in the United States.
President Obama and I are very confident that given a level playing field that these young leaders that are going through Howard’s Leadership Institute, that are coming through innovation, they can compete with anybody. But it’s our job to make sure that in fact that they are competing on a level playing field. Well, how are we going to do that?
The Dean and Bill told you that intellectual property theft and trade and knock off of goods is one way we sort of skew the playing field. It isn’t all done anymore by putting up barriers. But not only do we skew the playing field — piracy, knock off of goods, also generates a host of other problems. One, it’s a significant financial loss to those businesses, those young musicians, that’s why we see someone here from Bad Boy Entertainment, we see people in the music and other industries. But more importantly for us in many cases counterfeiting of some products such as car parts, pharmaceuticals, medical devices can pose a real risk to our health and safety. These crimes not only hinder sustainable economic development but they can also cause harm to the people whom we serve.
These are significant issues that all highlight the need for trade enforcement that reaches far beyond sometimes intellectual property concerns. That’s why President Obama and I have committed to working with Congress to make sure that we have the right legislative tools in place to partner with the enhanced enforcement efforts that we’re going to do. Let me tell you a little bit how we plan to do that.
First, simply the President’s first challenge to me was to one, underscore and emphasize the fact that the United States is not going to retreat from the global stage. Not only are we not going to retreat, we need to continue to be a leader in developing the rules by which we compete in a global economy. But if we’re going to do that, it shouldn’t be that much to ask our trading partners first of all, to commit to take actions and to comply with all the rules that we agree to. But particularly it relates to innovation and creativity — we’re asking them to commit to actions that will level the playing field for our workers and businesses. Not only to protect and enforce intellectual property rights, but also to make sure that we open up and have market access and protections for U.S. investors. And, to respect internationally recognized labor standards and to raise our environmental standards as well.
The rules of our trading partners also have to be balanced and fair. And again Bill mentioned how now we’re dealing more with what we call nontrade barriers. And we’ve seen now increasingly countries will set out new standards for intellectual property but it’s not exactly level field if standards are designed so that you’ve already picked who you want the winner to be ahead of time. So part of our work is also make sure that we guard against those nontrade barrier standards that also seek to operate against the interest of our American entrepreneurs.
Finally, we want to make sure that our trading partners follow through on those commitments. And President Obama and I have committed to an enhanced focus on enforcement of our existing rules and will do that by all of the tools that we have available to us. We’ll do it through constructive dialogue because it’s much more productive to you as a businessperson, if you’ve been harmed because your goods are being pirated, it’s nice to know that the United States Trade Representative’s office or the Commerce Department has the ability to file an enforcement clause at the WTO. But that’s not much relief to you if it takes 3, 4, 5 years for that to work through the system. So if we can solve many of these problems by being much more forcefully engaged in constructive dialogue with our partners and get your results sooner, that can be the difference between you being in business and continuing to innovate and create jobs and the difference between you having an apparent victory 5 years ago when we win an important case, but you’ve been out of business because someone has pirated all of your goods.
So the President has challenged us to use all of our tools, from dialogue to working within the existing rules and, as a last resort when necessary, to filing appropriate actions at the WTO. But the end result and our focus always has to be to making sure that we keep you innovating because if you innovate, if we can expand and give you access to that 95 percent of the market that is outside of the United States, at the end of the day, again as a mayor to me it’s not about economic development, it’s about jobs. And the more you grow the more people you can hire right here at home. And so that what this work is so much about. So I know we’re going to talk esoterically today about intellectual property and other issues but remember it’s all about creating new markets, new opportunities, for these bright young entrepreneurs and innovators that are going to drive the future of our economy and create good high paying jobs right here at home.
This is a time of extraordinary economic uncertainty. The President and I will continue to work to empower America’s businesses and entrepreneurs, to grow, to innovate, to expand, to create jobs and to create opportunities for economic growth right here at home. We need to work to preserve and grow innovative and creative industries now more than ever. And in that vein, that’s why it’s that much more important that we hope you’ll join us in articulating to your friends and neighbors why it’s important for the United States to have a robust, progressive trade agenda that keeps us engaged in the global community.
This crisis wasn’t made in a day, and it’s not going to be solved in a day. But I believe having a thoughtful, progressive, rules-based trade program for the United States can be a critical part of helping us restore our economy and create good jobs here at home. America’s ideas can help turn this economy around and we can do it sooner than later. In working with you we can ensure that our families and our workers succeed in the global marketplace.
You all have been incredibly kind to listen, to give me the opportunity to come and knock some of the rust off and share my thoughts with you. This is very important work that you’re doing. I hope you don’t think it’s academic. I hope you will give us a chance to partner with you. And again to Howard University and to President Ribeau, to Ambassador Dawson, Dean, thank you so much and Bill once again thank you for the great work that you and the council do in supporting our work. Congratulations, thanks to all of you and I look forward to working with you.