Hearing on Pending Nominations

Prepared Testimony of Mr. Robert S. LaRussa
U.S. Department of Commerce

10:00 a.m., Friday, July 21, 2000

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Sarbanes, and members of the Committee, it is an honor and a privilege to appear before you today as President Clinton's nominee to be Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade. I appreciate the confidence President Clinton has placed in me and the strong support of former Secretary Daley. Thank you for scheduling this hearing during a very busy time in the session. I appreciate your time and look forward, if confirmed, to working with the members and staff of this Committee on a bipartisan basis.

Let me take a moment to thank Congressman Sandy Levin for his introduction. Congressman Levin gave me my first opportunity to work on important trade policy initiatives and I am grateful for his guidance and support. It means a great deal to me that he is here today, supporting my nomination.

I also want to thank President Clinton, former Secretary of Commerce William Daley, and Acting Secretary Robert Mallett, for their support of my nomination. In particular, I appreciate the years I have spent working with William Daley, a man I admire for his intelligence, his kindness, and his commitment to public service. Under his leadership, the Department of Commerce has successfully focused on the task of expanding economic opportunity for all Americans. It was a privilege to work at the Commerce Department with him, and if I am confirmed, I will strive to continue his tradition of excellence in public service. I also look forward to working for Congressman Mineta, the Secretary-designate. I am sure that Secretary-designate Mineta will continue to build upon Secretary Daley's legacy and I will be honored to join his team.

As a Commerce Department official for the last seven years, I have been privileged to work closely with members of this committee and their staff. I have a deep respect for the crucial role of the Congress in both foreign and trade policy. If confirmed, one of my top priorities will be to work in close consultation with both the Members and the staff of the Senate and House. You can be certain that I will keep the Congress in general, and the Senate Banking Committee in particular, fully apprised of activities and developments on the international trade front which are within my jurisdiction. In addition, I will seek your views and solicit your advice on our activities.

The International Trade Administration is one of the most valuable agencies in the U.S. government. The work ITA does covers a wide-range of issues and policy with an important bearing on our nation's trade performance: helping U.S. companies market their products abroad, providing recourse against unfair trading practices, ensuring that our trading partners comply with their international trade agreements, and vigilantly attacking any barriers that prevent U.S. companies from exporting their products.

Since 1993, I have had the privilege of working in the International Trade Administration in two key positions whose functions relate directly to some of the most important economic challenges confronting the United States. First, from 1993 to 1996, I served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. In this position, I helped focus the Clinton Administration's export-promotion efforts on emerging markets, leading initiatives in Asia and Latin America. In addition, I saw first-hand how the government can make a difference assisting small and medium-size companies that want to export their products overseas. Due to advances in technology, opportunities abound to bring more of our nation's businesses into international trade.

Second, as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration, for which I was confirmed by the Senate in 1997, I was chief administrator of the U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty laws. I was the principal negotiator of several important trade agreements, including the tomatoes agreement with Mexico and the steel agreements with Russia. I have also been involved in a wide range of multilateral trade negotiations.

Prior to joining the Commerce Department, I spent my professional career in the fields of journalism and law, focusing on international trade. Between 1989 and 1992, I served as international trade counsel for Representative Sander Levin. During this period, I staffed Representative Levin in his capacity as chair of a House Leadership Task Force on the Uruguay Round and worked on issues ranging from trade with Japan to NAFTA.

My work in the trade domain convinces me that economic isolationism in today's interdependent, global economy is impossible and would be to the disadvantage of the long-term interests of U.S. companies, workers, and farmers. We cannot ask other countries to open their markets if we close our markets at home. However, it is clear that not all Americans believe that trade benefits them. To maintain the bipartisan consensus for trade, we need to ensure that our agreements are effectively and vigorously enforced and that our fair trade laws provide remedies to companies battered by dumped or subsidized imports. Consistent with these principles and with my past experience, I have outlined three areas that will be a priority should I be confirmed as Under Secretary: 1) facilitating small business exports through E-commerce; 2) ensuring compliance with our trade agreements, especially with China; and 3) implementing the President's Steel Action Program.

First, I think it is critical to increase the number of Americans who benefit from the technology revolution and to work with U.S. businesses to increase trade through technology. I believe ITA can make a significant contribution to this goal through our E-commerce initiative. Given our trade expertise and our Commercial Service's network of field offices at home and abroad, there are two areas where we plan to focus our activities: increasing small business exports and expanding market access for U.S. companies. We plan to rollout this initiative later this month, with events planned throughout the fall in the U.S. and overseas. For the U.S. market, we have developed a series of interactive, technology-enhanced, export promotion seminars designed to educate U.S. small businesses on the benefits of E-exporting. Ten seminars are being planned in various U.S. cities beginning in September. On the international side, we are targeting both the more sophisticated E-commerce markets in Europe and emerging markets in Asia and Latin America to introduce them to U.S. products and technology. We are also putting a wide range of our export promotion services on-line and are exploring new vehicles for export promotion including virtual trade missions, video match makers and the like.

My second priority area is compliance and enforcement of our trade agreements. Once the China WTO Agreement is in place, we want to ensure that U.S. firms and workers receive the benefits negotiated for them during China's World Trade Organization (WTO) accession process. Former Secretary Daley announced a "five-point China compliance plan" in early May and implementation of that plan is underway. If I am confirmed as Under Secretary, I will continue to work to ensure that all elements of the plan are implemented in a timely and effective manner.

The third priority is implementation of the President's 1998 Steel Action Program. The program includes the release of a comprehensive Commerce Department report on the global steel industry, scheduled for July 26. It will recommend solutions on both a global and domestic level, providing concrete suggestions for avoiding future crises and setting out a four-point plan of action.

As the members of this committee are aware, public service is very fulfilling, but also very demanding not only on oneself, but also on one's family. No one knows this better than my wife, and I want to give her a special thanks. When I started at the Commerce Department, my wife and I did not have any children. Today, we have four wonderful, energetic sons, three of whom are still in diapers. Without her support, understanding, and patience, I would not be here today.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today. I welcome any advice, counsel, comments, or questions that you might have.

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