U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said this week that he expects to leave office at the end of President Barack Obama's first term, and also expressed enthusiasm about the potential for a trade agreement between the United States and the EU to boost jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
"I've been privileged to serve, but it would be my intention to take advantage of the opportunity to go back and serve my family now," Kirk told Reuters Insider during a break in the spring meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a developed country group.
Kirk, who has not previously publicly said he plans to leave if Obama is re-elected, noted there was a tradition of U.S. cabinet officials submitting their resignation at the end of a president's first term.
"Like most members of the cabinet I do not anticipate that I would be around," Kirk said, but added it is ultimately "the president's call" whether to accept his resignation or not.
Obama is facing a tough challenge from Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the November presidential election. Most polls show the race in a virtual tie.
US-EU TRADE TALKS
Kirk said the current economic turmoil in Europe has increased the importance of talks between the United States and the EU on ways to expand on already huge volumes of trade and investment across the Atlantic.
"In this environment, this could be the best opportunity for us to fulfill the long desired ambition of a trade agreement between Europe and the United States ... I think it creates more of an effort," Kirk said, expanding on remarks he made earlier this week at the London School of Economics.
Kirk and European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht are expected to deliver their preliminary report on how the two sides could expand trade next month and their final recommendations by the end of the year.
"Our desired objective is a comprehensive agreement" covering as many sectors as possible, Kirk said.
Agriculture is a particularly sensitive area for the two sides, with the United States long frustrated over what it sees as unfair European barriers to its farm exports.
Kirk did not mention any areas that could be excluded, but said the two sides should "be honest (about sensitive issues that could block an agreement) and not sacrifice the good we can do in pursuit of the perfect."
The former Dallas mayor also said the two sides were determined a long-running spat over government support for European plane manufacturer Airbus and its U.S. rival Boeing not block chances of a trade pact.
European subsidies for Airbus are "a huge irritant with us. But the broader imperative ... (is) doing something that can help not only revive Europe's economy but help us continue our economic growth," Kirk said.
"We're not going to allow that dispute to stand in the way of what progress we can make," Kirk said, adding any talks to resolve the aircraft trade spat would be kept separate from broader U.S.-EU negotiations. (Writing by Doug Palmer in Washington; Editing by Anthony Boadle)