Obama seeks to harmonize international regulations

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Continuing his efforts to boost trade and job creation, President Obama on Tuesday issued an executive order to better align U.S. regulations with those of major trading partners.

The goal is to reduce “unnecessary differences” in regulatory requirements in such areas as health, safety, labor, security and the environment while maintaining current levels of protection.

The order sets up a working group, run by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, to examine strategies for developing regulatory approaches “through international regulatory cooperation, particularly in emerging technology areas.” Agencies are required to set up compliance plans and to review current and pending regulations, and OIRA will seek input from the business community and the public.

In an op-ed headlined “The White House vs. Red Tape” in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein cited as examples “divergent requirements for car headlights, or the labeling of food, or standards for container sizes.” He added, “the order makes clear that we will not undermine American laws or compromise our national prerogatives. But it emphasizes that international cooperation and harmonization can increase trade and job creation, eliminating pointless burdens without creating a regulatory race to the bottom.”

The order builds on a January 2011 executive order to improve regulation and regulatory review.

It declares that the working group’s actions “shall not duplicate the efforts of existing interagency bodies and coordination mechanisms,” and the group will consult existing interagency bodies when appropriate.

The National Association of Manufacturers welcomed the order. It is “an encouraging step because regulatory hurdles affecting cross-border trade of goods reduce our global competitiveness and harm manufacturers,” said Erik Glavich, director of regulatory and legal policy for the association. “By reducing these international regulatory burdens, manufacturers in the U.S. will have improved access to foreign markets -- a key to the health of our economy.”

The nonprofit OMBWatch was more skeptical. “We’re concerned that increased emphasis on international cooperation should not be an excuse to water down the protections available to American workers or consumers or to the environment,” Randy Rabinowitz, director of regulatory policy for OMBWatch, told Government Executive. “We are also concerned that the process for international cooperation be open to participation to all stakeholders and not just corporate interests. We’re not against cooperation if done in a transparent way that is protective of the public interest.”

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