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Obama Signs Order Creating U.S. Trade Enforcement Panel

President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating a U.S. panel to investigate unfair trade practices by nations including China.

The Interagency Trade Enforcement Center will bring together lawyers, researchers, analysts and government agents to monitor and enforce trade agreements and laws. The panel, established within U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk’s office, will have its director chosen by Kirk, with a deputy selected by Commerce Secretary John Bryson.

The center will be ready to open within 90 days, funded by the trade representative’s office and Commerce, Michelle O’Neill, deputy undersecretary of Commerce for international trade, told reporters today during a conference call. The panel will have employees from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Treasury, as well as U.S. intelligence agencies, according to the order.

“We are doubling down on the administration’s commitment to strong trade enforcement,” Kirk said during the briefing. “We’ll continue to press our trading partners” to comply with World Trade Organization rules “and abide by obligations.”

The effort may aid Obama’s attempt to boost economic growth and cut unemployment by doubling exports to $3.14 trillion by 2015, from $1.57 trillion in 2009. Though the panel will be empowered to investigate all foreign trade, Obama cited China as a source of concern in his January State of the Union speech to Congress.

WTO Complaints

Obama filed five World Trade Organization complaints against China since taking office three years ago, compared with seven George W. Bush filed from 2001, when China joined the Geneva-based trade arbiter. Obama imposed duties on Chinese-made tires, which he said has helped to create more than 1,000 U.S. jobs.

Obama’s 2013 budget submitted to Congress two weeks ago asked for at least 50 people and $26 million in funding. Kirk today said the trade center is the most significant allocation of resources since the trade representative’s office was created almost 50 years ago. The agency’s estimated spending for 2012 is $51 million.

“Signing this order brings us one more important step closer to the level of trade enforcement we need to counter the predatory practices of countries like China,” Representative Mike Michaud, a Maine Democrat, said today in an e-mailed statement. “Now Congress needs to step up and make this new office a priority by fully funding its operations.”

Obama has promised to boost support for U.S. manufacturers such as Boeing Co. that face subsidized foreign competition. On Feb. 17, he announced the Export-Import Bank will finance U.S. companies for domestic as well as overseas sales to match foreign competitors’ sources of official funding.

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