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Top Commerce trade official resigns

By Adam Behsudi, Nancy Cook and Doug Palmer

Gilbert Kaplan, the Commerce Department’s top trade enforcement official, resigned Thursday, further underscoring the turmoil that has gripped the agency under the leadership of Secretary Wilbur Ross.

The departure of Kaplan, who served as undersecretary for international trade, was confirmed by a Commerce Department spokesperson. He had held the post since March 2018.

Two people said Kaplan’s resignation was effective immediately. It is unclear what prompted Kaplan’s departure.

Kaplan’s position put him in charge of the International Trade Administration, a 2,100-person agency which oversees enforcement of U.S. trade laws, export promotion activities and other issues. Kaplan was also involved in the administration’s trade talks with China.

Kaplan had previously worked as a trade attorney at King & Spalding where he represented the U.S. steel industry and other domestic companies petitioning for protective duties.

The broader Commerce Department has been said to be slipping into dysfunction under Ross, whose leadership has been questioned. Morale has been low as Ross hasn’t been seen leading the department but rather using Commerce’s functions as tools to curry favor with the president.

The administration has repeatedly touted an increase in trade enforcement since President Donald Trump took office with the initiation of 182 new trade investigations of unfairly traded imports, a 231 percent increase compared to the same period of the previous administration, according to Commerce.

Under Kaplan’s tenure, the agency has also taken measures to more aggressively counter China. That included the first self-initiated trade investigation in 25 years. U.S. companies are usually responsible for petitioning for duties. In another major policy shift, the department is looking at using undervalued currency as a criteria for imposing punitive tariffs.