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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. He is responsible for roughly 40,000 employees and oversees everything from the U.S. census to National Weather Service forecasts. Oh, and there's a little matter of promoting American business and trade in the midst of a vicious global financial downturn. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was sworn in last week, and he has his work cut out for him. I asked him if the White House ouster of the General Motors CEO sends a dangerous message to other U.S. businesses.

Secretary GARY LOCKE (Department of Commerce): No, I don't think so. Everyone knows that the auto companies have to engage in major restructuring. And if American taxpayers are going to be willing to help with the auto industry, they want to see real reform, not just in labor agreements, not just in contracts with suppliers, but also in the management structure of those companies that have, that have led the auto dealers to this point in history.

NORRIS: Mr. Locke, you've said that more than free trade, that you believe in fair trade. I'm wondering what you mean by that. U.S. manufacturers have complained for some time now about unfair competition from China because of the trade in balance and charges that China perhaps manipulates its currency. Should we expect this administration to take a much tougher position on trade rules with China?

Sec. LOCKE: Well, actually, you've seen the United States fairly consistent over the last several years under both President Bush and now under President Obama talking about some of the unfair competition coming from a host of countries, not just China.

Obviously Chinese currency valuation is an issue. And Secretary Paulson, former Treasury Secretary Paulson under President Bush raised that as an issue, as well as members of Congress. At the same time, I can just tell you my own example from my days as governor of the state of Washington. I mean, Washington state produces the most apples in America.

And our farmers have to abide by a whole host of environmental regulations, health and human safety standards, labor standards, but apples coming from other countries, grown in other countries, aren't subject to the same type of rules and regulations. That puts our Washington growers at a competitive disadvantage.

The same thing with some manufactured goods made in America, where there are different subsidies by other governments — whether in Europe or elsewhere — that then put our American companies and American workers at a competitive disadvantage.

NORRIS: Does that mean that the administration should also force or push harder on human rights progress in exchange for some of these trade links?

Sec. LOCKE: Yes, I think that some of those issues are very legitimate issues to be addressed by the State Department, by Treasury and by Commerce. America has various ideals that we subscribe to, and we need to move other countries to begin adopting some of those.

NORRIS: I want to ask you about the census. Amid the Judd Gregg nomination, at the point when Senator Gregg was nominated to run the department, there was some confusion as to whether the Commerce Department would continue to run the census or whether the White House would take control of the census. Could you please clarify that for us? Will your - the Commerce Department continue to run the U.S. census?

Sec. LOCKE: Both President Obama and other officials within the White House have repeatedly indicated to me, have assured me that the census director would report ultimately to me, and of course, I report to the president. And so the census will be run by the Department of Commerce. But of course, as in past administrations, both Republican and Democrat, there has always been consultation, communication between the Census Bureau, and Commerce and the White House — as well as the members of Congress. I mean, Congress wants to know how it's coming along, as does the White House.

NORRIS: Now, you were not the first person who selected to run the department. That was Bill Richardson and his nomination. But he actually withdrew his nomination. The second person nominated was Republican Senator Judd Gregg. He withdrew over differences with the White House over the stimulus and other things. Was this a position that you long had in your sights? Or is it more a case where you were answering the call of duty?

Sec. LOCKE: Well, actually, it's both. When I first met with then president-elect Obama in Chicago, he was talking to me about U.S. trade representative, the possibility of doing that for him. And actually, I indicated that I felt that I could also do that, as well as commerce secretary. And it's - then, of course, I ultimately got the call to be commerce secretary. So I'm really humbled and honored that he would, in fact, call me.

NORRIS: And then there's that phrase, third time's a charm.

Sec. LOCKE: Yup, third time's a charm.

NORRIS: Well, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, it has been a pleasure to speak to you, thanks so much for joining us.

Sec. LOCKE: Oh, my pleasure.

NORRIS: Gary Locke is the new commerce secretary in the Obama administration. Prior to that, he was the governor of Washington state.

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