If 2011 was a banner year for trade expansion, President Obama's 2013 budget gives every indication the White House wants to return its focus to enforcement—just in time to woo jilted trade skeptics back for the election season.
Obama's budget proposal would expand the International Trade Administration and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative while also upping funds to ensure fair trade practices at the border. The budget includes $517 million to promote exports and enforce international export laws and $13 million for enhanced customs and border enforcement to tackle the sale of pirated goods.
The budget also includes a small bump in funding for the office of U.S. Trade Representative of $3 million.
Administration officials told Dow Jones that $26 million of those funds would be used to create the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center that was previewed in Obama's State of the Union Address. At the time Republican leaders in the House said they were skeptical of just how effective and cost efficient the consolidation plans would really be.
The proposed agency, which builds on the administration's ongoing trade enforcement agenda, received quick support from big labor groups like the United Steelworkers Union. The group's international president, Leo Girard, preempted the official announcement of the new enforcement group to support Obama's approach to trade law and contrast the approach with GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
“This President's budget makes an important investment in trade law,” Girard said. “The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, would jeopardize our successes and reverse course on enforcing the rules. Romney opposed the use of trade laws to support our nation's tire producers, who employ thousands of workers and make great products.”
Obama's relationship with big labor was put to a serious test in 2011 as his administration worked to negotiate the largest package of free trade agreements in over a decade. During those negotiations, the one are of mutual agreement in a difficult elationship was found in Obama's aggressive approach to enforcing existing trade law.
Since 2008, Obama has filed five complaints against China alone, compared with seven filed by the Bush administration after China joined the body in 2001.