rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » Business » Obama appoints Indian American to senior trade position

Obama appoints Indian American to senior trade position

April 01, 2010 13:35 IST

Nearly six months after he nominated Dr Islam A 'Isi' Siddiqui to be the chief agricultural negotiator at the office of the US Trade Representative, US President Barack Obama -- fed up with what the White House called 'obstructionist' policies by Senate Republicans in not confirming Siddiqui and several others -- appointed Siddiqui and 14 others as soon as the Senate adjourned for the Easter vacation-recess.

This means that Siddiqui and the other recess appointees can serve through next year without Senate confirmation until a new Congress convenes unless they receive Senate confirmation in the interim.

The White House said all the appointees would remain in the Senate for confirmation.

When Siddiqui was nominated, his confirmation was expected to be a formality considering his impeccable credentials but sources said his nomination had gotten caught up in the politics over some controversial nominations by Obama, including that of Chicago-based labour attorney, Craig Becker, whose nomination to the National Labor Relations Board -- which rules on unfair labour practice claims -- was blocked by the Republicans on the urging of business groups, including the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, who argued that he was too sympathetic and supportive of organised labour.

Becker, a strong advocate for card check legislation -- which would make it easier for unions to organise, that groups like AAHOA vehemently oppose -- is the associate general counsel to the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO, two labour groups that strong supported Obama during his campaign and also helped rally support for his health-care legislation that passed last month.

In appointing Siddiqui, Becker and the others, Obama said, "The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis."

"Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today," he said, "were approved by Senate Committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate."

Obama argued that "at a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the department of treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of the government."

The White House said that President Obama currently has a total of 217 nominees pending before the Senate. The 15 nominees, Obama appointed, it said, "have been pending for an average of 214 days or seven months."

Siddiqui's position would envisage him negotiating -- as part of his broad portfolio -- on contentious agricultural issues with India and other developing countries, which has been a sticky issue at the World Trade Organization's stalled Doha Round.

Immediately Obama appointed Siddiqui, Ron Kirk, the US Trade Representative hailed the appointment, saying that "Siddiqui brings to this office incredible agricultural expertise built over years of work in both government and private sectors."

Kirk said Siddiqui "can be counted on to stand up for American farmers, ranchers, and families in all our negotiations, from the Doha Round talks to bilateral discussions."

"If we want to double American exports in the next five years, we have to seize every opportunity to grow agricultural exports, as well as exports of goods and services," he said, and added, "Isi is going to make sure we don't leave any of those opportunities on the table."

Last September, when Obama nominated the Haldwani-born Siddiqui and several others, he said, "I am grateful for the willingness of these fine individuals to serve my Administration and am confident that they will represent our nation well. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years."

Siddiqui, currently, is vice president, science and regulatory affairs at the Washington DC-based CropLife America, where he is responsible for regulatory and international trade issues related to crop protection chemicals and previously also served as CropLife America's vice president for agricultural biotechnology and trade. He has also led CropLife International's initiative to achieve reduction/elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers against crop protection chemicals as part of the WTO Doha Round.

This included organising seminars and briefings at the WTO headquarters in Geneva on tariff elimination for the chemical sector in coordination with the International Council of Chemical Associations, European Chemical Industry Association and the American Chemistry Council.

He also represented CropLife America as a NGO at the WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2005 and at the International Conference of Chemical Management in February 2006.

From 1997 to 2001, Siddiqui held senior positions in the Clinton administration, including under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs in the department of agriculture, which at the time made him the senior-most Indian American in US government.

He also served as senior trade advisor to then agriculture secretary Dan Glickman and deputy under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, where he worked closely with the USTR and represented USDA in bilateral, regional and multi-lateral agricultural trade negotiations.

When President Clinton visited South Asia in March 2000, Siddiqui was the only Indian American who was part of the US delegation that travelled with Clinton on Air Force One.

The only other South Asian who was on Air Force One with the President was Bangladeshi American Osman Siddique, who was then the US Ambassador to Fiji.

From 2004 to 2008, he served on the US Department of Commerce's Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, and Health/Science Products and Services, which advised the Secretary of Commerce and USTR on international trade issues related to these sectors.

In an interview with rediff.com, immediately after the White House announced his nomination, Siddiqui said: "This is such a great honour. I am deeply humbled by President Obama's decision to nominate me, particularly for this position," which he acknowledged was something very much in keeping with his area of expertise.

"This is something on which I've worked for the last 25 years in California and four years in the Clinton Administration (from 1997 to 2001)."

Before joining the Clinton Administration, he had spent nearly three decades with the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, beginning in 1969 as a nematologist in the Department's Division on Plant Industry and rising to Director of the Division, in which position he served from 1984 to 1997, when he was tapped by President Clinton to be the deputy under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs at the USDA.

Siddiqui said that "even in the private sector I've been involved in international trade issues, and so, this position is something which is very much in my area of expertise and I am thrilled to be part of the administration."

Siddiqui was also a fund-raiser for the Obama presidential campaign and held a major fund-raiser at his McLean, Virginia home early last year, which was keynoted by Congressman Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, who was designated by the campaign to be the surrogate for Obama.

An alumnus of Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University in Pantnagar, from where he received his bachelor of science degree majoring in plant protection,  Siddiqui came to the US immediately upon graduation in 1964 for post graduate studies and received his master of science and PhD from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1966 and 1969 respectively, majoring in plant pathology.

After getting his doctoral degree he joined the California Department of Food and Agriculture where he served for 28 years and during the time he was Director, Division of Plant Industry, developed the Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Medfly) Eradication Program in response to public opposition to the continued use of Malathion aerial sprays in local communities, and as a result, Mefly infestations have not been found since that time.

Siddiqui also led California's successful Boll Weevil Eradication Project that was later used as the template by other cotton-producing states to eradication boll weevil from the Southwestern US.

Siddiqui has been the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including the US Secretary of Agriculture's Distinguished Service Award in 1992, Superior Management Award from the California Department of Food and Agriculture in 1991, and the Distinguished Service Award for the Medfly Eradication Project in 1982.

He has published extensively in national and international journals and been a much sought after speaker at both national and international conferences related to plant protection, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, agricultural biotechnology, and international trade.

Image: Dr Islam A 'Isi' Siddiqui (right) with Noble Laureate Norman Borlaug at a conference in Washington DC in 2006. Borlaug passed away on September 12, 2009.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC