WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Tuesday he was stepping down as the top U.S. trade official in late February, having served while a crisis-wracked global economy made negotiations to open new markets challenging.
"It has been no less than my greatest professional privilege to serve President Barack Obama alongside the dedicated professionals of USTR," Kirk said in a statement that gave no details of his future plans or replacement.
The former Dallas mayor and early Obama supporter oversaw congressional approval of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia in which talks had begun with the previous administration. He also completed negotiations on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.
Kirk also overcame initial White House resistance to relaunching talks on a regional free-trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which many trade experts consider the most significant trade negotiation now under way.
"It's very hard to pursue an activist international agenda when there's so much churning in the domestic economy. To his credit, he has maintained an open U.S. trade policy at a time of great stress," said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
White House international economic affairs advisor Mike Froman has been considered the front-runner to succeed Kirk, but there was no announcement of a successor yet.
Other possible candidates include Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis, U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke and Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard.
(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Sandra Maler and Philip Barbara)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp