This story from Bloomberg is too bad - but let's hope Obama selects another fair-trader for the position:
Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, said he turned down an offer by President- elect Barack Obama to be U.S. Trade Representative and will stay in Congress.
In an interview with La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper in his hometown of Los Angeles, Becerra said that he didn't want the job because trade was not a priority for Obama.
"My concern is how much weight this position would have had, and I reached the conclusion that it would not be a top priority, or even second or third priority," Becerra told the newspaper's editorial board.
That last part about the priority of trade is a bit disturbing, because - as noted earlier - in order to make sure economic stimulus works, we must start reforming our trade policies. Otherwise, we're just shipping more American dollars overseas. To use a bad metaphor, if you don't plug the systemic leaks in the hull of your boat (ie. your trade policy structure), no amount of bailing water is going to keep you (ie. your economy) afloat. So, as Businessweek's cover story implies, trade has to be an integral part of the highest priority of all - economic recovery.
That said, Becerra's comment about priorities could mean that Obama passing new bilateral trade deals will not be a priority. Considering that bilateral trade deals have almost all been NAFTA-style in structure, not passing anymore of those would be progress.
UPDATE:Reuters reports that "Others seen as possible candidates for [USTR] are former Rep. Harold Ford, a Tennessee Democrat who now heads the Democratic Leadership Council." That would be truly awful - and would suggest a complete U-turn from all the policy promises on trade Obama made during the campaign.