White House Said To Nominate Locke For Ambassador To China Slot

Via Inside U.S. Trade

The principal trade association representing U.S. companies with operations in China today (March 8th) welcomed news reports that the White House intends to nominate Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next U.S. ambassador in Beijing after Jon Huntsman steps down to run for president at the end of April.

“Gary Locke is a great choice to serve as the next US ambassador to China,” said US-China Business Council President John Frisbie in a March 8 statement. “As a former elected official, he understands how ordinary Americans view the relationship with China. With his background as secretary of Commerce, he understands that trade and investment ties with China are important to American jobs and economic prosperity.”

Frisbie also noted that as Commerce Secretary Locke had made China one of his top priorities.

“He is focused on results, measured by both export growth and solving market access issues, and he understands how China works,” said Frisbie. “He will be a respected and effective US ambassador to China.”

Also congratulating Locke as a “longtime friend and colleague” in a March 8 press release was Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA). The White House has still not formally announced the nomination, although one source said that could happen as soon as today.

The reports of Locke’s nomination fueled speculation as to who would replace him as the next Commerce Secretary. At Commerce, there is an acting Deputy Secretary since Dennis Hightower left that slot in August 2010.

One source said the administration has been reaching out to business leaders to gauge interest in replacing Locke as the head of the Commerce Department for months, and another source said it has long been apparent that Locke was looking to move on from his current position.

While several media reports suggest that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk could be a replacement for Locke, lobbyists said they did not believe Kirk wants to leave USTR to join the Commerce Department just as U.S. trade policy is beginning to move forward in earnest under the Obama administration.

They pointed out that Kirk will likely want to stay at USTR to help secure congressional approval of trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, and to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, in order to be able to consider those as personal achievements.

One lobbyist said the debate on potential Locke successors is still on-going and it is not clear who will actually emerge as the nominee.

Lobbyists also pointed out that the administration may feel pressure to place a business leader in a cabinet post, and that the Commerce Secretary slot is the most likely candidate. This would help cement a stronger relationship between the White House and the business community after the elections last November, one source said.

Sources said they did not believe Locke’s nomination for ambassador to China would present any difficulties when it comes to securing Senate confirmation. One source said the nomination process is generally easier when the nominee is already serving in a political position in the administration and has undergone Senate confirmation.

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