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USTR Kirk downplays chances for trade revamp plan

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Friday downplayed chances that Congress would move this year to approve President Barack Obama's sweeping plan to reorganize U.S. trade agencies, but said he strongly backed the idea.

"I am a hundred percent supportive of the president's objective to rationalize our capabilities and our mission with the realities of where our economy is," Kirk told reporters in his first public comments on the proposal outlined by the White House last week.

Obama wants to consolidate USTR and five other trade and business agencies into a single export body to help the United States better compete in a 21st century economy and to modernize a government he said has grown too complex.

Kirk, when asked if he thought Congress was likely to give Obama the power to carry out the plan, paused, broke into a broad smile and laughed before replying.

"You know, look, this is one of those things that I think most Americans if they are just sitting around their kitchen table would think is a non-brainer. But we're in Washington, we're in an election year," Kirk said.

Key members of Congress - including the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee - have raised concern with the plan.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp said they feared taking USTR and "making it just another corner of a new bureaucratic behemoth would hurt American exports and hinder American job creation."

Other lawmakers, including Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, complained the plan was thrust onto Congress without any consultation.

Kirk told reporters his agency had been involved in talks on reorganization plan "from the beginning and I am very comfortable with the fact the president understands what makes USTR special."

"So we're not afraid of it. It's a good thing, but right now the ball is in Congress' hand," Kirk said.

On a related matter, Kirk declined to say whether he would be willing to serve a second term as U.S. Trade Representative if Obama wins re-election in November.

"That is the president's decision to make. I was humbled and honored he asked me to serve this first term. I'd like to think I've done so with distinction, but you know, I don't even want to talk about second terms. We'll still got work to do."

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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