New trade enforcement office draws on cross-agency expertise, personnel

Tuesday - 2/28/2012, 5:26pm EST

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday the creation of a new cross-agency office to curb unfair international trade practices.

The creation of the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC), first mentioned in the President's State of the Union address last month, is one of a series of steps the administration is taking to promote business and trade. Ultimately, Obama has proposed merging several business and trade agencies into a single Cabinet-level department.

Trade efforts

The executive order states the new center, situated within the office of the trade representative, will coordinate trade issues among the following departments:
  • State

  • Treasury

  • Justice

  • Agriculture

  • Commerce

  • Homeland Security

In an executive order Tuesday, Obama established the center within the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The center will coordinate U.S. trade rights under international agreements and monitor unfair foreign trade practices, particularly by China.

ITEC, which features the word "interagency" in its name, aims to be a true multi-agency endeavor.

Situated from within the trade representative's office, the new center will coordinate trade enforcement issues for the Departments of State, Treasury, Homeland Security and others.

Ron Kirk, who heads the trade representative's office, in a press call with reporters, called the executive order the "most significant commitment of resources and expertise devoted to trade enforcement" in more than 50 years.

"This unprecedented step to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to trade enforcement builds on the substantial progress already underway," Kirk added.

Leadership

The emphasis on multi-agency participation is also present in the new center's leadership structure.

USTR's Kirk will select a director for the center, and Commerce Secretary John Bryson will select a senior Commerce official to serve as the deputy director. Additionally, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will choose an intelligence community liaison to serve at the center.

Bryson said ITEC's leadership hires — along with core staff — would be made within 90 days.

Michael Froman, assistant to the President for international economic affairs, said the center's personnel would provide a "deep pool of analytical support for trade enforcement efforts," including lawyers, researchers and analysts.

"We will put them to work on the toughest cases," Bryson added.

Budget

Administration officials said the 2013 budget request, which seeks $26 million in funding for ITEC, will enable the center to hire the personnel it needs. The budget sets aside $24 million of Commerce funding and $2 million of USTR funding to help support the center.

"The FY 2013 budget request is fairly straightforward and our hope is that we've got a compelling case for the additional resource request," said International Trade Administration Deputy Undersecretary Michelle O'Neill.

However, for the remainder of the current fiscal year, trade officials will need to begin "redirecting resources within the International Trade Administration and the Department of Commerce to kick-start the effort," she added. "We should be, I think, in a good place to get this started ... in the next 90 days."

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