By and  on December 4, 2008

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, will take the reins of a sprawling department responsible for stabilizing key elements of the U.S. economy and trade relations.

If confirmed by the Senate, Richardson will head an agency that monitors the apparel and textile trade through the Office of Textiles and Apparel and make decisions in trade remedy cases. Part of the larger mission of the far-reaching Commerce Department is to spur economic growth and job creation, a particularly important role as the U.S. rides out the recession. The agency oversees everything from the collection of economic data and the U.S. Census to imports, exports and intellectual property.

In addition, Commerce chairs the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, an interagency group responsible for factors that impact textile trade policy and for overseeing the implementation of textile trade agreements. CITA also includes members from the State, Labor and Treasury Departments and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Richardson was serving his second term as governor of New Mexico and was an early rival of Obama’s in his bid for the presidency. He served as an ambassador to the United Nations and then energy secretary during the Clinton administration. Before joining Clinton’s cabinet, Richardson served 14 years in Congress.

In making his announcement in Chicago on Wednesday, Obama said Richardson’s breadth of experience made him well suited to help put the U.S. economy on track. “I know that Bill will be an unyielding advocate for American business and American jobs, at home and around the world,” Obama said.

Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said Richardson’s broad experience “will be essential as he steps into this vital leadership role during general economic turmoil.”

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said Richardson has not had a highly visible record on trade and manufacturing issues, but instead has focused primarily on international relations and diplomacy.

Obama also is said to be considering a second Hispanic politician, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.), for the USTR, a cabinet post, according to industry lobbyists and news reports. As USTR, Becerra would help set the tone of Obama’s trade agenda, lead negotiations on trade deals and be the top enforcer of unfair trade cases against countries at the World Trade Organization.

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