Urge to Merge; Why Combining the U.S. Trade Representative with Other Agencies is a Bad Idea

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 6:00pm

On Friday, January 13, President Obama announced his intention to merge the Commerce Department, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Small Business Administration, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and U.S. Trade and Development Agency. That proposal quickly drew criticism from lawmakers and the U.S. business and agriculture communities. My aim today is to summarize those concerns.
In late January, the Chamber was one of 86 business associations signing a letter to the president expressing concern about the proposal. The signatories included organizations representing small, medium-sized, and large companies and associations representing farmers and ranchers, manufacturers, and service providers. (I’d like to recognize Linda Menghetti at ECAT, who led the drafting and rallied the signatories.)
At the heart of these concerns lies the high regard that lawmakers and business share for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. As House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady said: “USTR is nimble, aggressive and operates on a tiny budget — yet participates in round-the-clock negotiations with trading partners throughout the world while producing job creating trade agreements to spur the American economy.” The business letter I mentioned called USTR “extremely efficient, focused and effective.”
Against this backdrop of somewhat unusual high praise for a government agency, there are at least two major concerns about moving USTR — concern about moving it out of the Executive Office of the President, and concern about moving it into a larger, yet-to-be-named agency.
The full remarks are available here.