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Bush Nominee for Commerce Secretary Pledges to Expand Free Trade

President Bush's nominee to be the Commerce Secretary is pledging to expand free trade if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Cuban-born Carlos Gutierrez made his comments during a confirmation hearing before a Senate panel Wednesday.

In an appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee, Mr. Gutierrez, Chief Executive Officer of the Kellogg cereal company, underscored his commitment to easing regulatory and trade barriers on U.S. businesses if he is confirmed as Commerce Secretary.

The 51-year-old Mr. Gutierrez highlighted his remarkable life story for the committee.

Born in Cuba, he fled to the United States with his family in 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro took power.

Mr. Gutierrez joined Kellogg in 1975, starting as a truck driver in Mexico City. Known for his strong work ethic, he worked all over the world for the company. He rose through the ranks to become CEO in 1999. He is credited with reviving the company when it was grappling with financial difficulties.

But he never received a college degree. Some lawmakers were concerned that that might be a disadvantage. But Mr. Gutierrez said the education he received on the job better qualifies him for Commerce Secretary than a college diploma would.

"I have been able to work around the world, which I consider to be a great fortune, being able to work with different cultures, being able to understand the nuances of how to deal with people of other countries, the minor nuances, the difference between an Argentinian and a Chilean, the difference between Korea, China and Japan, which you know are very marked," he said. "That is something I can bring to this job."

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, whose state is home to Kellogg's headquarters, agrees.

"This vast business experience in the United States and abroad is going to give him and has given him a unique understanding of our country's role and the challenge that we face in the global marketplace," he said.

If confirmed, Mr. Gutierrez would not only deal with business and trade issues, he would also be concerned with weather and storm-related subjects because the Commerce Department is also home to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the wake of the deadly tsunami in South Asia, lawmakers expressed their concerns about the need to bolster the warning system for tsunamis in this country.

As you are well aware, 85 percent of tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean area," said Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii. "We spend $10 million annually for the Pacific system, we have only six buoys deployed, we need at least 12 more."

Mr. Gutierrez assured lawmakers he would work toward strengthening the tsunami warning system.

The Gutierrez' nomination hearing is the first of several scheduled over the next few weeks on President Bush's second-term cabinet nominees.

Mr. Gutierrez, who is expected to be swiftly confirmed, would succeed Don Evans, who announced his resignation shortly after the November second election.