WASHINGTON — Apparel importers expressed some concern about President Obama’s proposal to merge the U.S. Trade Representative’s office with the Commerce Department and four other agencies, saying it could eliminate USTR’s ability to respond quickly to issues and proposals that arise during crucial trade negotiations.
Obama said Friday that he is seeking “consolidation authority” from Congress to merge six federal government departments into one new cabinet agency in an effort to curb waste, “redundancy and inefficiency,” and save the government money. The other four agencies are the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Trade & Development Agency.
“Right now there are six departments and agencies focused primarily on business and trade in the federal government,” he said, pointing to the Commerce Department, USTR and the Small Business Administration. “In this case, six is not better than one.”
Under consolidation authority, the President can propose mergers to save the government money. Congress would have 90 days to vote up or down, and not amend the proposals.
Jeff Zients, federal chief performance officer and deputy director for management at the Office of Management & Budget, said in a conference call that the merger would save $3 billion and eliminate 1,000 to 2,000 jobs through attrition. Zients noted that the integrated department would be led by one secretary, but that the USTR would still be on the president’s cabinet. According to the White House, presidents have had similar authority for the past 50 years until it expired during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Congress must approve the President’s move to streamline the government, which could be difficult in such a polarized environment on Capitol Hill that has led to gridlock on most legislation.
Ron Kirk currently heads the much smaller USTR, which negotiates and enforces trade agreements and rules, and Commerce Secretary John Bryson heads the sprawling agency that oversees a wide range of trade issues, including trade remedy decisions and the Office of Textiles & Apparel.
“If you have an agency [such as USTR] that’s part of a larger bureaucracy, it is harder for them to make decisions and respond to negotiating dynamics and developments that may be quickly moving,” said Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.
Lamar noted that the current model has USTR as the lead negotiating agency in pushing for market access around the world for U.S. companies that are backed by the depth of resources at Commerce. Both agencies already work closely together.
“I think having USTR as a separate entity has really worked,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “It allows negotiators to negotiate and other agencies to implement…There is a lot of concern about how will it will function when you don’t have a core of elite negotiators and they are not part of the executive branch.”
David Spooner, an attorney representing importers with law firm Squire Sanders LLP, said USTR’s main role would essentially be eliminated if merged into an integrated agency.
“USTR was created in the 1960s because prior to that, trade policy was a mess,” said Spooner, who has held positions at USTR and Commerce. “You often had a department like agriculture fighting with Commerce, Treasury or State, and you would have stalemates [on important trade matters and negotiations] because each cabinet agency was an equal level. I’m not sure why eliminating USTR would make trade policy more efficient and business friendly.”
The move to merge the departments stems from meetings the administration has had with business owners across the country in the past few months, Obama said.
“There are a whole host of Web sites, all kinds of toll-free numbers, all sorts of customer service centers, but each are offering different assistance — it’s a mess,” Obama said. “If Congress would reinstate the authority that previous presidents have had we would be able to fix this. We would have one department where entrepreneurs can go from the day they come up with an idea and need a patent, to the day they start building a product and need financing for a warehouse, to the day they’re ready to export and need help breaking into new markets overseas.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast