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By Brian Flood
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative will remain a separate entity and will not be merged with another agency, said Jason Miller, the Trump transition team's communications director.
The announcement seemingly put to rest an idea floated by Trump on the campaign trail to consolidate all agencies and departments that handle trade policy into one “America Desk” within the Commerce Department.
“I can tell you that there's no talk of the U.S. trade rep's office being merged into Commerce,” said Miller during a conference call with reporters. “That still will be its own entity and they'll still be performing all the functions that the U.S. Trade Rep normally would do.”
However, Miller also said Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross will “direct much of the administration's trade policy.” Miller noted that Ross has worked closely with Trump in crafting the president-elect's trade policy, and touted the billionaire investor's deal-making prowess.
“A lot of the details between the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Rep's office are still being worked out,” Miller said.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is part of the Executive Office of the President and is responsible for developing U.S. international trade and investment policy, and overseeing trade negotiations. It's also the agency responsible for representing U.S. interests at the World Trade Organization.
Carla Hills, chief executive officer of the consulting firm Hills & Co. and former USTR for President George H.W. Bush, told Bloomberg BNA that she welcomed the decision to keep the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative intact.
The office should remain apart from the Commerce Department, she said. First, as a matter of protocol, the move would introduce complexity in U.S. trade relations with other countries. Given Commerce's wide range of subject areas, the commerce secretary cannot devote his/her full attention to trade, Hills said, but foreign trade ministers would be less amenable to meeting with a deputy.
In addition, Hills said the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative attracts personnel from the top echelons of other federal departments. She said she doubted whether such top-tier applicants would be as attracted to a subordinate position within the Commerce bureaucracy.
Finally, USTR has invaluable access to the president as a cabinet-level position, Hills said, which a Commerce deputy would lack.
Miller said Jovita Carranza, a former UPS executive who served as deputy administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush, is being considered for the position of U.S. trade representative. He also said Dan DiMicco, former head of steel-maker Nucor Corp., and Robert Lighthizer, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and a former deputy U.S. trade representative, “could possibly be in the mix.”
Trade was a central issue in Trump's campaign, where he repeatedly railed against past trade deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement and the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, as “job killers.” He has vowed to make smarter deals and step up enforcement against foreign countries, particularly China, that violate trade rules.
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