WASHINGTON — President Bush made it official and gave Utahn Jon Huntsman Jr. a birthday present at the same time.
On Monday, Bush announced that, as rumored, he would nominate Huntsman as deputy U.S. trade representative, carrying the rank of ambassador.
Huntsman, 41, told the Deseret News, "I am deeply honored and humbled by the president's gesture and look forward — Senate willing — to working toward fulfilling his vision for American in the area of international trade."
The U.S. Trade Representative's Office is part of the Executive Office of the President. It is headed by U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, and he has two deputies. Huntsman is slated to become the deputy that oversees trade in Asia, and the other is over trade in Europe.
The office coordinates trade issues for the president, and makes recommendations on policy.
Huntsman would likely be deeply involved in such hot topics as trade with China, Japan and Korea — and "intellectual property" issues on such things as computer software piracy, which U.S. companies consider a large problem in Asia.
It would be the second time that Huntsman would have the rank of ambassador. He was the U.S. ambassador to Singapore in 1992 and 1993. He also was deputy assistant secretary of Commerce from 1989 to 1992.
Huntsman is currently vice chairman of Huntsman Corp., which was founded by his father, Jon Huntsman Sr. The corporation is one of the largest privately owned chemical companies in the world.
The younger Huntsman must now await confirmation by the Senate. Presidents routinely announce whom they intend to nominate — before they actually do — so that any objections may be raised early while background checks proceed.
Earlier in the year, Huntsman was widely rumored to be on the short list to become the ambassador to China (he speaks Mandarin, learned as an LDS missionary to Taiwan).
Huntsman has had a long-time interest in Asia. In an op-ed column for the Deseret News published in September 1999, Huntsman wrote: "What is in doubt is whether American leadership will be strong enough to ensure that tomorrow's China evolves in keeping with certain standards of behavior such as a commitment to open markets, ending the proliferation of destructive weapons and recognition ultimately of its people's political aspirations. The next American president will have a hand in the outcome since Sino-U.S. relations today have spiraled toward an unproductive impasse of mutual suspicion and lost confidence."
That next American president may send Huntsman back into the area as a trade representative.
Huntsman was a delegate for George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention last year — although his father was a high-profile supporter early for the rival campaign of Elizabeth Dole. Huntsman Jr. joked at the convention that there was a political split in the family.
Huntsman said he must now give up his chairmanship of Envision Utah, the leading non-partisan effort in planning growth and open-space development in Utah. The Huntsman name gave prestige to the effort, and when Huntsman came to the Utah House GOP caucus during the last legislative session, House leaders interrupted their caucus debate to hear from Envision Utah and not keep Huntsman waiting.
Bush also announced several other ambassador picks on Monday.
He nominated Howard Baker, former Senate majority leader and chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, as ambassador to Japan.
He nominated businessman Howard H. Leach as ambassador to France, and businessman J. Richard Blankenship as ambassador to the Bahamas.
Washington rumors have also suggested that another Utahn may be in line to become an ambassador. John Price, one of the nation's largest developers of shopping centers, is said to be in line to become ambassador to Mauritius, a small island nation off Africa in the Indian Ocean.
In annual Deseret News studies on political donations by Utahns, Price is usually the largest contributor in the state to GOP causes and usually among the top 50 contributors in the country.
Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr.