The International Trade Administration, which works to strengthen the competitiveness of U.S. industry around the world and is the lead agency driving President Obama’s National Export Initiative, is moving forward with consolidation after receiving approval, from congressional appropriators in early May, Francisco Sánchez, the under secretary of Commerce for international trade, recently told reporters.
Under the plan, the ITA will eliminate one of its four business units to better align its services with the needs of companies.
The Global Markets unit will consist of the U.S. Commercial Service, which has trade professionals in more than 100 cities and 75 countries, and a big part of what is the Market Access and Compliance group. Country experts there will be integrated into Global Markets.
Industry and Analysis, currently known as Manufacturing and Services, will continue to house experts for each industry sector as well as the agency's economic analysis team. The sector experts will also act as the primary interlocutors with private sector advisory boards and manage trade promotion programs so industry has more input in developing future initiatives.
The third unit, currently known as the Import Administration, will be called Enforcement and Compliance, with responsibility for managing antidumping and counterveiling duty cases filed in response to unfair trade practices by foreign importers. It will also house the part of Market Access and Compliance that ensures compliance with trade agreements.
“The idea is that if a client has a market access issue and an export trade promotion need it can go to one place” instead of two offices, Sanchez said in mid-June at a briefing held in the office of the National Foreign Trade Council. The reorganization also reflects the fact that ITA field offices - mostly staffed by trade specialists from the U.S. Commercial Service – are often called on to resolve market access issues that prevent U.S. companies from freely selling their goods and services in other countries.
The integration will result in the elimination of the assistant secretary for market access and compliance. There will also be a reduction of employees that support the assistant secretary, with most of the cutbacks realized through attrition, Sanchez said.
Any financial savings will be plowed back into ITA’s operation to fund its ongoing work on export promotion, development of trade policy and trade enforcement, he said.
Sanchez said the reorganization should be complete by Oct. 1.
The extra money would help counteract some of the belt-tightening associated with this year’s sequestration, but the ITA has long required creativity to do its job without any budget increase the last dozen years, Sanchez said.
The Commerce Department agency has stretched its capability through industry partnerships and better coordination with other agencies, he said.
In recent years, ITA has trained the sales forces of parcel carriers UPS, FedEx, DHL and the U.S. Postal Service about the export assistance services available from the federal government, such as market research, financing and addressing market access barriers. The couriers have extensive contact with, and information about, companies that have dipped their toes into the international market or want to expand to new countries and can send leads to ITA staff. Many companies shy away from foreign trade because of the complex customs, bureaucratic and logistics issues associated with cross-border shipping.
The Commerce Department’s Gold Key program, for example, helps companies develop strategies for doing business in a particular country.
The agency is similarly working with port authorities to spread the word about government export programs as they educate shippers in their regions about the export process and overseas opportunities.
And the nascent Metropolitan Export Initiative
, aimed at pulling together all the resources for export promotion and training around various cities, is another way ITA is leveraging its expertise.
The partnership programs are critical for letting businesses know about government resources because ITA’s budget doesn’t allow for a media campaign to raise awareness, Sanchez said.
“We exist to help businesses compete globally and if they don’t know these services are available that’s a problem,” he said.
The other component of generating more new exporters is the Obama administration’s concentrated focus on coordinating the export facilitation activities of 19 agencies, Sanchez said.
ITA, given its tight budget, has had to target its activity on companies that are export ready. The Small Business Administration has taken responsibility for providing information about the basics of exporting to small companies
and then refers to ITA companies that are serious about selling overseas.
“If we have a company that really knows nothing about exporting and if we sent them to one of our overseas offices it would probably be a very costly learning experience,” Sanchez said. - Eric Kulisch