The U.S. Trade Representative’s office is a relatively small operation, with just 220 or so employees, according to the most recent statistics. But it’s looming very large in the debate over President Obama’s proposed consolidation of agencies dealing with business and trade policy.
Key lawmakers objected almost as soon as Obama announced Jan. 13 that he wanted the Trade Representative’s office in that new department. Now, dozens of business groups are also voicing “immediate concerns” about eliminating USTR as a stand-alone agency in the Executive Office of the President. In a joint letter this week to Obama, they said the agency plays “an invaluable role in coordinating the many different entities within the U.S. government that have specialized trade functions.” Not to mention that its position within the executive office lends the agency “enormous credibility,” they added.
“Subsuming USTR into a broader trade and business government department will severely harm that credibility and USTR’s ability to play its unique coordinating role within the U.S. government.”
The diverse coalition of more than 80 signers included the National Association of Manufacturers, TechAmerica, the American Chemistry Council and the Motion Picture Association of America. The letter was posted online by Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
In an emailed response, Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Moira Mack touted the virtues of synergy. The proposed consolidation would allow USTR “to retain its nimbleness, and also draw on expertise currently spread across the government . . . ,” she said. “By combining and augmenting the analytic and enforcement capabilities currently housed at [the Commerce Department] and USTR, we will be better able to enforce trade laws, combat unfair tariff and non-tariff barriers, and crack down on practices that unjustly harm U.S. companies.”
Besides USTR and a large chunk of Commerce, the new agency would encompass the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and parts of several other agencies.