US Trade Rep. Kirk to step down in February

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U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who worked to get trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama through Congress, is leaving the Obama administration next month.

Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, announced his departure in a brief statement Tuesday. He had served as the administration's top trade negotiator through President Barack Obama's first term in office.

Kirk also led the administration's effort to bring cases before the World Trade Organization that accused China of unfair trade practices. Among them were charges of imposing heavy tariffs on imports of U.S. automobiles, auto parts and steel.

His office also joined the European Union and Japan in accusing China of limiting its exports of rare earth minerals, which are used to manufacture hybrid car batteries, flat-screen televisions and other high tech products.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama praised Kirk for his efforts to both illuminate unfair trade practices and advance free trade agreements.

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