Schwab chosen for top trade job

April 19, 2006|By MEREDITH COHN | MEREDITH COHN,SUN REPORTER

Susan C. Schwab, a former University of Maryland official nominated yesterday to be the country's top trade negotiator, faces a different and tougher world from the one she knew three decades ago when she took her first job in international trade.

The nation's image has been dimmed by the war in Iraq, and protectionist leanings in Congress and in other developing and developed countries have grown, trade experts say. There are growing worries about the immense trade deficit with China and its control over the rise in value of its currency. Agriculture has emerged as a major sticking point in the latest negotiations at the World Trade Organization for open trade, called the Doha round, which began in Qatar in 2001.

But those who know her or her work say Schwab's background in academics, government and politics and as a trade office insider would help her at the WTO and with individual countries if she is confirmed as the U.S. trade representative.

"She certainly knows all of the issues involved, and the personalities involved, which is probably more important at this point," said Jeffrey W. Steagall, a professor of economics and international business at the University of North Florida. "She has a history with them."

Schwab, 51, has been serving as a deputy trade representative since November 2005. She's been responsible for trade relations with Europe and Eurasia, the Middle East and the Americas, and for operations involving the World Trade Organization, according to the trade representative's office.

Schwab has dealt with issues involving investment, intellectual property, industry, market access and telecommunications.

Before coming to that office, she served as president and chief executive of the University System of Maryland Foundation and vice chancellor for advancement. She also served as dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy from 1995 to 2003.

She resigned from that position because she was nominated to be deputy Treasury secretary. She withdrew from that nomination because of unpaid taxes from a sale of stock in Calpine Corp., where she served as a board member, according to media accounts at the time. Schwab said it was the result of bad accounting advice and record keeping at Calpine Corp.

Jacques Gansler, a former undersecretary for defense in the Clinton administration and current vice president for research at the University of Maryland, said Schwab was hired at the foundation because she was well-liked in College Park and adept at navigating economic and political environments. He was hired by Schwab and served for a time as acting dean of the public policy school after Schwab resigned.

Critical time

"It's a tough but important time," he said. "The world is clearly moving toward globalization and interdependency. ... [Schwab] has the experience and intelligence for the job."

Schwab went to the university from Motorola Inc., where she served as director of corporate business development. She also served in the first Bush administration as an assistant secretary of commerce and director general of the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service and as a trade policy specialist for Sen. John C. Danforth, a Missouri Republican.

Her first job 29 years ago was as a trade policy officer in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and an agricultural trade negotiator in the trade representative's office.

"I've come full circle," said Schwab in a statement.

Former Connecticut Rep. Sam Gejdenson, an international trade consultant and the former senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said Schwab will need to do more than negotiate broad treaties. She'll need to ensure that the open markets stay open for U.S. companies and that their intellectual property is protected. And she'll need to send a message early that she has authority in the administration.

`Tough' climate

"It's a tough global climate toward America," he said. "We used to be the single power in world that was admired, but not anymore."

A spokesman in the trade representative's office said the office has confidence that there will be a "seamless" transition.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who appointed Schwab to his transition team, said he expects the same. "Susan Schwab played an integral role in making my transition to the executive branch a smooth one," the governor said in a statement.

"Given her extensive portfolio and knowledge of trade relations, I am confident her transition will be equally smooth as she continues to advance U.S. trade policy initiatives," he said.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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