White House moves to align US, foreign regulations

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced that it was taking a new step toward aligning U.S. regulations with those of foreign countries in an effort to reduce unnecessary costs to business.

President Obama issued an executive order charging an existing working group with identifying ways to streamline U.S. rules with international impact.

In addressing regulations, the administration said it was balancing the need for tough safety, environmental and other controls with the need to promote U.S. exports.

Cass Sunstein, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, explained the new order in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

“The order makes clear that we will not undermine American laws or compromise our national prerogatives,” he wrote. “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 new working group will build on recent actions like one at the Department of Labor to harmonize warning labels with those in other countries, something that saves U.S. exporters $475 million a year, according to Sunstein.

Regulatory steamlining has long been a goal of multinational companies and Sunstein is appearing at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday to explain the new move.

Nancy McLernon, the CEO of the Organization for International Investment, praised the move Tuesday.

“It is imperative that regulations are crafted with the realities of the global economy in mind, with foreign companies doing business in the U.S. and U.S. companies doing business abroad.  Coordinating countries’ regulations with one another should be a forethought, rather than what has traditionally been an afterthought at best,” she said.

Environmental and public-safety groups in the United States have long been worried that business wants to use regulatory harmonization as a backdoor to cripple U.S. standards.

"Whether you call it harmonization, deregulation or international regulatory coherence, this controversial agenda of using 'trade' pacts to set a ceiling on health, safety, financial and environmental standards stalled out in the WTO Doha Round of trade talks, and now is being resisted in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. This recent executive order appears to be the latest effort to introduce by stealth what has been rightly rejected elsewhere," Lori Wallach of Public Citizen said Tuesday.

A major pillar of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign has been the allegation that Obama has over-regulated the economy, contributing to slow growth. The White House has dismissed such claims as baseless.