WASHINGTON — President Obama signed an executive order on Wednesday to help accelerate and streamline the processing of imports and exports at U.S. ports.

The action should help apparel, textile and footwear importers and exporters cut through red tape and process their cargo to and from U.S. ports more quickly. Retailers and brands imported a total of $104.7 billion of apparel and textile products to the U.S. in 2013, according to the Commerce Department. The U.S. exported $23.6 billion in textile and apparel products to the world last year.

Obama signed the order on Air Force One en route to Toluca, Mexico, where he was set to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a North American Leaders summit.

The executive order mandates the completion of the International Trade Data System by December 2016. The system will allow businesses to electronically submit their import and export documents to the federal government through a “single window” in order to get approval to process cargo. Businesses currently have to submit information to dozens of government agencies, often using paper forms, which slows down processing.

The White House said in a fact sheet that the order will cut “processing and approval times from days to minutes for small businesses that export American-made goods and services.”

The new electronic system will also eliminate duplicative paperwork and reduce expenses for businesses that move more than 50 million containers and $3.8 trillion of goods across U.S. borders each year, according to the White House.

“This Executive Order helps to clear the way for American businesses large and small to compete and win in the global marketplace,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. “The United States is a leader in facilitating trade around the world, but the President’s action ensures that the elimination of red tape begins here at home. In December, World Trade Organization members committed to smart steps that will ease the flow of trade and make it possible to support more jobs and families through international commerce. Today, we’re ensuring that American companies and workers face fewer hurdles sending Made-in-America goods to global customers.”

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