President Obama signed an Executive Order on February 28 creating the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (“ITEC”), which Administration officials say will improve the effectiveness of U.S. challenges to unfair trade practices around the world by leveraging and coordinating resources of various federal agencies. The Executive Order followed the commitment President Obama made in his January State of the Union address to create a “Trade Enforcement Unit,” as reported in the February 2012 edition of the Trade & Manufacturing Alert.

ITEC will be housed within the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”). Its director and deputy director will be appointed by the U.S. Trade Representative and the Secretary of Commerce, respectively. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk stated that the creation of ITEC marks the most significant commitment to trade enforcement since the USTR was created more than 50 years ago. Commerce Department Secretary John Bryson added that ITEC is part of the Commerce Department’s commitment to “making it as easy as possible for U.S. businesses to build things here and sell them everywhere.” The new Center will address enforcement issues with trading partners throughout the world, according to Administration officials, although they have suggested that trade issues with China will be a major focus.

In addition to USTR and Commerce, agencies involved in ITEC will include the Departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Agriculture, and Homeland Security, as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and any other agencies the President or the U.S. Trade Representative may designate. Agency employees supporting ITEC efforts will include trade lawyers, language-proficient researchers, subject matter and economic analysts, and foreign-based personnel.

The Administration is able to set up ITEC immediately without congressional authorization because it will initially rely exclusively on existing resources of the federal agencies involved. Administration officials stated that they plan to hire leadership and core staff for ITEC by the end of May. Secretary Bryson emphasized that the Administration intends to add more resources in the future. President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget asks Congress to appropriate $26 million—$24 million for Commerce and $2 million for USTR—to support the creation of ITEC, which the Administration hopes will eventually include at least 50 employees.