Trade lawyers reacted with caution to President Obama's proposal Friday to consolidate six federal agencies that focus on business and trade.
Combining the U.S. Department of Commerce's core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency would “streamline government to make it work better for the American people while eliminating duplication, waste and inefficiencies,” according to today’s White House announcement.
Trade lawyers are not so sure.
“A lot of work goes into these reorganizations, and unless there is an obvious benefit to doing them, they may not be worth the effort,” said Paul Rosenthal, an international trade and government relations partner at Kelley Drye & Warren in Washington.
“I don't know any details about the proposal, and as we know, the devil is in the details," he continued. "But, at the outset, I don't see any major benefit to this proposal, at least when it comes to the trade remedy/enforcement functions of the government. So, I am skeptical, but withholding judgment.”
The White House claims that “Consolidating these agencies along with other related programs will help entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes grow, compete, and hire, leveraging one cohesive department with one mission: to spur job creation and expand the U.S. economy.”
Obama called on Congress to reinstate presidential authority to reorganize and consolidate the federal government — power that was last granted to President Ronald Reagan. This time, though, the White House promised that any plan would be required to reduce the number of government agencies or save taxpayer dollars.
Greenberg Traurig global practice group co-chair James Bacchus, a former World Trade Organization chief judge, saw some potential benefits to the plan.
“The United States is among the few countries in the world without a true trade ministry as a major government department,” he said. “Reorganization offers an opportunity to elevate trade while saving money. However, reorganization must maintain the traditional emphasis of the [U.S. Trade Representative] on creating more market access by negotiating lower barriers to trade, and not make a new single trade agency subservient to domestic protectionist interests.”