WASHINGTON -- President Obama plans to sign an order Wednesday that officials say will cut the waiting time on permits to import and export goods "from days to minutes."
Currently, businesses submit information to dozens of government agencies, often on paper forms, and must then wait for days before moving goods across U.S. borders.
The changes to the International Trade Data System will let businesses send the required information electronically through a single portal before importing or exporting cargo, a White House official said Wednesday morning.
Obama's order will direct government agencies to complete work on the new system by December 2016, at the end of his term, the official said.
The order is the latest initiative in the president's "pen and phone" agenda -- executive actions he can take to advance his economic agenda while waiting for Congress to move on proposals of greater scale.
It comes as Obama heads to Mexico on Wednesday for a meeting with other North American leaders, and as he is trying to reassure them that he can still deliver even in the face of significant political resistance at home.
The big item in the area of international trade is so-called fast-track authority, which would give Obama the ability that previous presidents have had to negotiate trade deals that Congress must give an up-or-down vote. But he faces opposition within his own party, and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have said the proposal will not be voted on before November's elections.
Obama plans to sign the executive order aboard Air Force One as he flies to the summit with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Toluca, Mexico.
In addition to discussing immigration and security, the three North American Free Trade Agreement partners are to focus on matters of commerce.
The changes to the U.S. trade data system are meant to dramatically cut import-export processing and approval times over the course of the next two years.
The new system is supposed to speed up shipment of American-made goods in part by setting up a "single window" for submitting information the government requires prior to import or export.
The new method of filing has been in the works for some time, but Obama's order sets up a deadline for getting it done and calls on the agencies to make the transition from paper to electronic data collection.
It also directs the government to work with non-government entities to institute more efficient processes.