WASHINGTON — President Obama proposed $26 million in funding for a new Trade Enforcement Center focused on cracking down on unfair trade practices, in addition to more money to help achieve his goal of doubling exports and boosting other trade priorities in his $3.8 trillion federal budget proposal submitted to Congress on Monday.

This story first appeared in the February 14, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While the President’s blueprint for the federal budget in fiscal year 2013, which begins Oct. 1, calls for dramatic belt-tightening, with $4 trillion in projected deficit cuts over the next decade, it calls for more money to be devoted to trade enforcement and the agencies that negotiate trade deals and help support boosting exports. One of the largest trade initiatives, which Obama outlined in his State of the Union address last month, is a new trade enforcement unit that will go after unfair trade practices, such as counterfeiting and illegal subsidies by trading partners.

Discussing the new initiative, Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said, “As part of our jobs manufacturing strategy, putting forward an interagency trade enforcement center — $26 million, 50 to 60 new people, greater coordination in the government, and this is designed to significantly increase our capacity to bring additional trade cases that will level the playing field against countries around the world, including China.”

The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration would receive $24 million of new funding and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office would receive $2 million to coordinate the interagency program, according to Rebecca Blank, acting deputy Commerce secretary.

Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “If it is properly focused on the egregious problems, such as the new import restrictions imposed in Argentina, it can be additive to what the U.S. is already doing.”

Lamar said Argentina has added hundreds of products, including textiles, apparel and footwear, to its list of imports subject to nonautomatic licensing, which require specialized permission to import.

The International Trade Administration, a main engine behind promoting Obama’s goal to double exports by the end of 2014, would receive a 14 percent increase in the president’s budget proposal to $517 million. The Commerce Department’s Import Administration, which monitors textile and apparel imports and investigates antidumping and countervailing duty trade cases, would receive an increase in funding to $84.7 million from $67 million.

Blank said the budget request, while touching on Obama’s proposed plan to seek consolidation authority from Congress and merge Commerce, USTR and four other agencies, does not include a formal request for funding for a new combined cabinet agency. Obama must first get the authority from Congress, which would be followed by the agencies and stakeholders formally submitting a reorganization proposal and then a budget request at some point in the future, she noted.

Obama’s budget proposal would increase the budget of USTR, which is responsible for negotiating free trade agreements and filing unfair trade cases at the World Trade Organization, to $53 million in 2013 from $51.3 million in 2012.

U.S. Customs & Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security that seizes counterfeit goods shipped through U.S. ports, received a slight boost to $11.9 billion from $11.7 billion, while the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement unit received an increase of $10 million.

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