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Focusing trade

It may not be coincidental that even as President Reagan was meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone administration officials were working on a plan to streamline the US trade bureaucracy. The idea is to consolidate existing US government agencies that are involved with foreign trade into one department.

Are the Japanese the inspiration for such a reform? They have long centralized their trade functions in the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). In the US, by contrast, trade-related agencies are spread throughout the federal establishment, a cumbersome system that some legislators have long sought to change.

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Such a consolidation would make sense. But should a new department become simply another adjunct of the Commerce Department, as some key White House aides advocate? Congress might instead consider merging trade functions into the existing cabinet-level office of the US Trade Representative.

Wherever positioned, a single trade agency would be able not only to promote American exports but to work more efficiently for an opening up of trade worldwide.

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