USTR Seeks Comments on Trade Agreements

The Trump Administration’s evaluation of international trade agreements is getting serious. In addition to the NAFTA renegotiations, discussed here, the Office of United States Trade Representative has solicited public comments on trade agreement violations and abuses. These comments will be considered as part of USTR’s “performance reviews of all bilateral, plurilateral, and multilateral trade agreements and investment agreements to which the United States is a party.”

Despite the somewhat ominous-sounding “violations and abuses” language used in the Federal Register notice, the scope of the exercise is quite broad. The notice invites commenters “to address any specific harm or benefit resulting from any agreement, treaty”. The examples provided include “violations or abuses of the agreement, treaty, or program” and “unfair treatment by trade and investment partners” that have “harmed American workers or domestic manufacturers”, agricultural interests, intellectual property rights or innovation and research and development in the U.S.

USTR also is interested in whether the programs under review have not “met predictions with regard to new jobs created, favorable effects on the trade balance, expanded market access, lowered trade barriers, or increased United States exports.” As a seeming afterthought, it additionally solicits:

. . . information describing benefits or opportunities created as part of these agreements, treaties, programs, and trade relations with respect to, inter alia, export opportunities for American workers or domestic manufacturers, farmers, or ranchers; lowered trade barriers; promotion of U.S. intellectual property rights holders; the rate of innovation in the United States; U.S. based research and  development; protection of rights of U.S. persons investing abroad; and any other relevant information.

This information is sought concerning “performance of individual free trade agreements (FTAs) and bilateral investment treaties (BITs) to which the United States is a party” as well as “performance of the WTO agreements with regard to our trade relations with those trading partners with which the United States does not have an FTA, but with which the United States runs significant trade deficits in goods.”

There are fourteen FTAs and 40 BITs. The WTO members running “significant trade deficits” with the United States are China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This review provides the single best opportunity for United States trading interests to describe what they like and dislike about foreign countries’ implementation of trade agreements. Given the particular emphasis the USTR notice gave to harmful or disappointing consequences of agreements, those importers, exporters and investors which have benefited from them should ensure that their voices are heard too.

Comments are due to USTR by July 31, 2017.


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