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Spotlight on Commerce: Ronald Lorentzen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Import Administration, ITA

Photo of Lorentzen at his desk

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Ronald Lorentzen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Import Administration, International Trade Administration

As the career official responsible for the day-to-day management of Import Administration, I perform many roles: making the budgetary ends meet; acting as policy adviser plenipotentiary; being an “executive sponsor” of various projects; and serving frequently as a diplomatic counselor or empathetic ear to our organization’s staff and external stakeholders.

Import Administration’s core mission is to administer our nation’s antidumping and countervailing duty laws, which provide a remedy–typically, via a special import tariff–to help U.S. industries that are injured as a result of unfairly traded imports.  These remedies are determined through quasi-judicial investigations conducted under the close scrutiny of the courts and the World Trade Organization. While the process is sanctioned by international trade rules and receives broad support from the Congress, the outcome of any given investigation can displease the domestic industry, the foreign exporters, the foreign government(s) and–in many cases–all of the above. You have to have a thick skin to do my kind of work. But the work itself can be intellectually fascinating, impinging upon some of the most controversial trade policy issues and of make-or-break importance to the survival of many U.S. businesses and the livelihoods of many Americans.

How did I get here? I was born in northeastern Ohio and grew up in Indiana and Illinois, graduating from Bradley University in Peoria, IL, with a B.A. in French and international relations. I had no clue when I was in high school that one could specialize in such a field, but I think that my sense of being “different” led me to explore that possibility and the options that it might present. That led to a junior year of college at the Sorbonne in Paris, which in turn convinced me that I must continue in this field and find another chance at further study abroad. I was accepted by the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies M.A. program and packed my bags for a year at SAIS’s center in Bologna, Italy, with my second year bringing me to Washington–my home ever since. I can see more clearly now that my scholarly interests spoke to the calling that I had to understand and interact with people of different cultures, but the experience of living abroad was profoundly transformative in liberating me from my own, often self-imposed limitations as a gay man.

Today, I look back at more than 30 years in international trade law and policy at both the International Trade Administration and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. To be sure, there were some stressful and frustrating times, but on the whole I have learned and hopefully shared a lot of knowledge, experience and wisdom along the way. Having grown up in the Midwest and been in the first college-educated generation of an upwardly mobile middle class family that contributed to and depended upon our country’s vibrant manufacturing base, I am both pained and moved to action by the struggle of so many people of that same background today.  I hope that the hard work that I and my colleagues in Import Administration perform every day to try to provide the proverbial “level playing field” for U.S. manufacturers and workers offers some measure of support to the folks that are still struggling, as well as to the President’s efforts to lay the groundwork for an America “Built to Last”.

I feel privileged to have been given this opportunity to tell a little of my own story as part of LGBT Pride Month. Over the course of my life, so much has changed for the positive in our society and its treatment of its LGBT citizens. Some days, it feels to me as if the change has moved more quickly than I can process–or fully trust. But I also know that there still are hundreds if not thousands of LGBT youth across our country that are withdrawn into worlds of deceit, depression and thoughts of suicide. And I can see my adolescent self among them. My advice to young LGBT Americans considering a career in my or any field is to dig deep to understand what brings you bliss in life and to find the adventurousness and tenacity needed to get you there. Most importantly, I have learned that life truly is more about giving than receiving. If you give seriously of your time, energy, intellect and heart, you will receive a world of blessings–perhaps not the ones that you aimed for, but blessings even more exciting and meaningful for you.

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