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Ron Kirk Named Obama's U.S. Trade Representative

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
December 18, 2008

                 Many industry officials are hopeful that the upcoming U.S. administration will reconsider the regulation of online casinos. With the escalation of international trade disputes between the U.S. and overseas gambling operators, the issue of internet gaming is quickly developing into a serious quandary.

                The failure of U.S. representatives to properly address the ongoing WTO violations is soon to create a less than amicable relationship with the E.U. According to various reports, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, will assume the position of President-elect Obama’s Trade Representative. Kirk will be left to resolve the altercations caused by the UIGEA, and its enforcement outside of the U.S.

                The latest in WTO arbitration against the U.S. is E.U. Commissioner Peter Mandelson’s formal request for the U.S. to cease the prosecution of overseas gambling domains, until free trade treaties can be examined and negotiations had. This is certainly not the first case brought before the World Trade Organization that has been ignored by the USTR, as Party Gamin co-founder Anurag Dikshit was recently formed into a plea and a $3 million settlement. The plea was made despite the fact that PartyGaming exited the U.S. after the UIGEA was implemented.

                Antigua was awarded a hefty settlement of the U.S. earlier this year, after the WTO found the U.S. guilty of protectionist policies toward domestic online gambling. Since the ruling, however, the USTR has failed to make payments even after several deadlines have come and gone. As such, the U.S. has opened its doors to further litigation, and a deeper blow to the already failing economy.

                Kirk succeeds Susan Schwab of the Bush administration, whose course of action in these international trade disputes has essentially been to ignore them. While she has been involved in several negotiations, she has neglected her responsibilities to the European Union.

                Kirk is known as a patron for free trade. He has been entrusted with the responsibility to maintain a good standing with foreign markets. John Murphy, Vice President for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised Kirk’s efforts in keeping free trade alive.

                “Trade has been one of the only bright spots for the U.S. economy, and the Obama team is going to need every tool in its tool box,” said Murphy.

                Mickey Kantor, former USTR in the Clinton administration commented, “He’s an incredibly impressive guy with a wonderful background, particularly for this job. You’ve got to understand both substance and politics to be successful, and he certainly understands trade being from Texas.”

                Frank Vargo, Vice President for international economic affairs, while not entirely familiar with Ron Kirk, explained that Kirk’s experience in Texas should speak for his experience in trade. “Being mayor in [in] a border state, certainly he’s going to be familiar with the benefits of trade, particularly NADTA, which has benefited Texas a lot.”

                Vargo concluded that as Obama wrestles with the economy, and with foreign relations, “trade will inevitably become a priority.”In the case of the economy, many have predicted that online casino gambling will also become a priority, making Kirk’s role all the more vital.