By  on December 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — Congress sent a $447 billion spending bill to President Obama on Sunday that would boost the budgets for the nation’s two top-trade agencies and increase funding for China enforcement offices and trade remedy oversight.

The legislation, passed by the House on Friday and the Senate on Sunday, increases appropriations for dozens of government agencies in the 2010 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, and adheres closely to the priorities of the Obama administration.

The majority of Democrats have placed a premium on reshaping the trade agenda by tightening enforcement laws and pursuing trading partners, particularly China, which violate trade rules and hurt U.S. manufacturers.

To that end, Congress increased the budget of the Commerce Department’s International Trade administration to $456.2 million from $429.9 million in the 2009 fiscal year. The Import Administration, a division of the ITA that monitors textiles and apparel and investigates antidumping and countervailing duty trade cases, will receive $68.2 million, up from $66 million.

The bill also boosts funding for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to $47.8 million from $47.2 million. USTR negotiates free-trade agreements, is the lead negotiator in the global trade talks, enforces existing agreements and has the ability to file unfair trade cases against foreign countries.

“Hopefully, this will lead to further investigations and a greater scrutiny of what’s going on with China in terms of unfair trade practices,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

The textile industry will also receive some funding, at lower levels than in the past, in the spending bill for university consortiums that link the textile and fiber industries to leading research and educational programs. They include the National Textile Center, slated to receive $1.8 million, and the Textile/Clothing Technology Corp., a supply chain consortium, which will get $965,000. In total, the bill would provide almost $3.9 million for textile research programs, compared with about $2.7 million the previous year, but significantly below the $13.5 million a coalition of industry groups requested in a letter to Congress in February.

Importers want the administration to turn to a more free trade philosophy next year, after this year’s focus on enforcement.

Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said: “Enforcement continues to be a priority…enforcement is the easiest trade policy issue for the administration and Congress to agree on.”

Hughes said the White House would turn to more trade liberalizing issues once several vacant positions at USTR and Commerce are filled and Congress passes a health care bill.

“The constituency for trade in the private sector is still here and active, but within the administration, there isn’t that same focus or emphasis,” she said. “I think that will change once a health care reform bill passes.”

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