As we’re all painfully aware by now, the Obama administration’s semi-official policy these days is to simply use executive action as often and as far as possible (and oftentimes, even farther than that), since Congress (ahem, spiteful obstructionist Republicans, amirite? cough) isn’t feeling cooperative enough to send him any legislation he’d deign to sign. Earlier today, President Obama added yet another executive action to his impressively expansive repertoire, but this one was actually aimed at helping to speed up the process through which small businesses gain U.S. government approval for exports or imports, via Reuters:

The order, signed on Air Force One as Obama flew to Mexico to meet the Mexican and Canadian leaders, is the latest example of Obama using executive authority to act on his own where he can without needing congressional approval.

“Trade is critical to the nation’s prosperity – fueling economic growth, supporting good jobs at home, raising living standards, and helping Americans provide for their families with affordable goods and services,” the order said.

Obama’s move has the aim of cutting the time needed for processing and approving for small businesses that export American-made goods.

His order is tantamount to a pledge to complete by December 2016, near the end of his presidency, the International Trade Data System, which aims to be a centralized online access point to connect U.S. Customs, the trade community and 47 government agencies.

At the moment, businesses have to submit information to dozens of government agencies, all on paper forms, in order to obtain permission to export across the border. The new electronic system (in theory, as ever) should help reduce wait times for businesses to just minutes and “will speed up the shipment of American-made goods overseas, eliminate often duplicative and burdensome paperwork, and make our government more efficient,” according to a White House statement. It actually sounds like a solid idea, and indeed, President Obama has (highly selectively, ugh) included boosting exports on his economic agenda as a means to boost growth for awhile now.

It’s refreshing, then, that President Obama finally seems to be realizing that you can’t merely push just exports for their own sake; to really reap the mutually enriching benefits of free trade, you also have to make way for imports from other countries. Obama has been working on acquiring free-trade fast-track authority and putting together a couple of major trade agreements (trade agreements certainly aren’t ideal, but in this global regulatory crapshoot of ours, I’ll take whatever we can get), much to the chagrin of many members of Congress — but if you’re tempted think it’s Republicans who are really standing in his way on this one… you would be wrong.

The White House says it will continue to press Congress for authority to speed approval of trade deals even as election-year politics makes the task harder.

The Obama administration is engaged in two difficult trade negotiations, one with Japan and 10 other Pacific nations, and the other a proposed trans-Atlantic deal with European Union nations. The trans-Pacific talks are closer to completion. …

The fast track process, more formally known as “trade promotion authority,” empowers presidents to negotiate trade deals and then present them to Congress for up-or-down votes, with no amendments allowed.

Such trade deals have always been more popular with Republicans than Democrats.

That’s largely because business interests aligned with Republicans have always formed the core support for efforts to expand trade, while labor unions traditionally supportive of Democrats claim trade deals like NAFTA have cost U.S. jobs, helping to send them overseas.

There are a handful of conservative types who’ve hinted that they’d oppose the president on this, but generally, Boehner is pushing the White House to get more aggressive about touting one of the pillars of their economic agenda that Republicans actually agree could be good for growth and jobs — knowing full well, of course, that the White House probably doesn’t care to get too vocal about it right now. Too many Democrats are already on the run from his image as it is, and the labor unions from which Democrats secure so much of their campaign financing are exceedingly fond of exports while not at all partial to imports. It’s a damn shame if the White House rolls over and dies on this, because the countries with whom we’re working would really appreciate it if they could get some certainty out of the negotiating process — and in the meantime, the American economy continues to struggle. Via Myron Brilliant at the WSJ:

President Obama in his State of the Union address called for Congress to grant him Trade Promotion Authority to “open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’ ” The next day Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that “Everyone would be well-advised not to push this right now.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last Wednesday that the bipartisan TPA bill introduced in January was “out of the question.” …

Imported manufactured goods face U.S. tariffs averaging a mere 2%, with a few exceptions for protected industries such as apparel, footwear and sugar. But U.S. manufacturers and farmers often face far higher tariffs and other steep trade barriers when entering foreign markets, beginning every game a dozen points behind. …

The interference damages the U.S. economy. In 2010, the Commerce Department estimated that foreign tariffs reduce the earnings of U.S. factory workers by as much as 12%. The impact spreads to other sectors such as agriculture due to non-tariff barriers including unscientific sanitary requirements. The way to fix these inequalities? New trade agreements that demand accountability and fairness.