By  on December 2, 2008

WASHINGTON — Newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will play key roles in shaping and implementing trade and maritime cargo security policies affecting billions of dollars worth of apparel and textile imports.

President-elect Barack Obama named Clinton and Napolitano to his cabinet on Monday; both must still be confirmed by the Senate. While the State and Homeland Security departments do not directly negotiate trade agreements, a duty fulfilled by the U.S. Trade Representative, both agencies have a hand in trade and global commerce policies.

Clinton will give up the New York Senate seat she has held for eight years. The State Department has a seat and vote on the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, an interagency group chaired by the Commerce Department that makes important decisions affecting textile and apparel imports and commerce.

As a presidential candidate, Clinton took a hard line against trade with China, the North American Free Trade Agreement and pending trade deals with South Korea and Colombia. Some retail and importing trade groups argue her rhetoric on the campaign trail will diminish as Clinton settles into balancing trade with foreign policy initiatives.

Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, said the State Department has traditionally been a voice against “drastic action to impose trade barriers and has been supportive of issues” such as export opportunity zones in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The interests she has to look out for now have changed,” Autor said. “She will have to determine and implement foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration, and identify and support the foreign policy interests of the U.S.”

Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said Clinton and Napolitano are both positives.

“For Sen. Clinton, clearly a lot of people in our industry know her well from her time both as first lady and a senator, and I think there is an expectation she and her staff know the importance of trade as it relates to foreign policy concerns,” said Hughes.

She cited Clinton’s involvement in working with companies like Liz Claiborne Inc. to bring apparel production to Macedonia to help jump-start that nation’s economy after the war in the Balkans.

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said Clinton has a “well-rounded view of international affairs” and has experience in issues affecting the domestic industry and economy. He said the textile industry is hopeful Clinton will balance trade initiatives with her understanding of the impact it has on domestic industries.

“She demonstrated in the Senate a willingness to be fairly pragmatic on trade-related and manufacturing-related issues,” said Tantillo.

As chief of the Homeland Security department, a large agency overseeing U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Napolitano, the governor of Arizona, will confront several contentious issues early on, including an initiative requiring 100 percent of all cargo loaded at some 700 foreign ports to be scanned for radiation by 2012.

The mandate, set in legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, has created a dustup between current Secretary Michael Chertoff and Capitol Hill lawmakers. Chertoff and Customs officials have told members of Congress they will not meet the 2012 mandate, citing several problems laid out in a General Accountability Office report, including the lack of existing technology.

“I think Customs folks have recognized there are serious impediments to the concept of 100 percent scanning,” said Autor. “We hope that message is continued under the next administration.”

Tantillo said the textile industry hopes the Obama administration and Napolitano will devote more resources to the enforcement of transshipped textiles and apparel that undercut domestic production.

“Customs has seen its resources dwindle or diverted and it is time to get back to a situation where people enforcing the laws dealing with the importation of textiles and apparel products are given the resources and direction to actually carry out that work,” Tantillo said.

Obama also named Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain in his post, while nominating Eric Holder as Attorney General and Susan Rice as Ambassador to the United Nations, and tapped retired Gen. Jim Jones as National Security Adviser.

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