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American trade policy works toward opening markets throughout the world to create new opportunities and higher living standards for families, farmers, manufacturers, workers, consumers, and businesses. The United States is party to numerous trade agreements with other countries, and is participating in negotiations for new trade agreements with a number of countries and regions of the world.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade, commodity, and direct investment policy, and overseeing negotiations with other countries. The head of USTR is the U.S. Trade Representative, a Cabinet member who serves as the president’s principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson on trade issues.
USTR is part of the Executive Office of the President. Through an interagency structure, USTR coordinates trade policy, resolves disagreements, and frames issues for presidential decision. USTR also serves as vice chairman of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), is on the Board of Directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, is a non-voting member of the Export-Import Bank Board of Directors, and a member of the National Advisory Council on International Monetary and Financial Policies.
USTR provides trade policy leadership and negotiating expertise in its major areas of responsibility, including:
Bilateral, regional and multilateral trade and investment issues
Expansion of market access for American goods and services
International commodity agreements
Negotiations affecting U.S. import policies
Oversight of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and Section 301 complaints against foreign unfair trade practices, as well as Section 1377, Section 337 and import relief cases under Section 201
Trade, commodity, and direct investment matters managed by international institutions such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
Trade-related intellectual property protection issues
World Trade Organization (WTO) issues
Working with other agencies
USTR consults with other government agencies on trade policy matters through the Trade Policy Review Group (TPRG) and the Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC). These groups, administered and chaired by USTR and composed of 19 Federal agencies and offices, make up the sub-cabinet level mechanism for developing and coordinating U.S. Government positions on international trade and trade-related investment issues.
The TPSC is the primary operating group, with representation at the senior civil service level. Supporting the TPSC are more than 90 subcommittees responsible for specialized areas and several task forces that work on particular issues. If agreement is not reached in the TPSC, or if significant policy questions are being considered, then issues are taken up by the TPRG (Deputy USTR/Under Secretary level).
Click Here for Executive branch agencies on the Trade Policy Staff Committee and the Trade Policy Review Group.
The final tier of the interagency trade policy mechanism is the National Economic Council (NEC), chaired by the president. The NEC Deputies’ committee considers memoranda from the TPRG, as well as important or controversial trade-related issues.
The U.S. Congress established the private sector advisory committee system in 1974 to ensure that U.S. trade policy and trade negotiation objectives adequately reflect U.S. commercial and economic interests. Congress expanded and enhanced the role of this system in subsequent trade acts, most recently the Trade Act of 2002.
The advisory committees provide information and advice with respect to U.S. negotiating objectives and bargaining positions before entering into trade agreements, on the operation of any trade agreement once entered into, and on other matters arising in connection with the development, implementation, and administration of U.S. trade policy.
The trade policy advisory committee system consists of 26 advisory committees, with a total membership of up approximately 700 advisors. Recommendations for candidates for committee membership are collected from a number of sources including Members of Congress, associations and organizations, publications, and other individuals who have demonstrated an interest or expertise in U.S. trade policy. Membership selection is based on qualifications, geography, and the needs of the specific committee. Members pay for their own travel and other related expenses, must obtain a security clearance.
Under the Trade Act of 2002, each advisory committee is required to prepare a report on proposed trade agreements for the Administration and Congress. These reports are made public on USTR’s website.
The system is arranged in three tiers: the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN); four policy advisory committees; and 22 technical and sectoral advisory committees.
The President appoints up to 45 ACTPN members for two-year terms. The 1974 Trade Act requires that membership broadly represent key economic sectors affected by trade. The committee considers trade policy issues in the context of the overall national interest. USTR administers the ACTPN.
The policy advisory committees are appointed by the USTR alone or in conjunction with other Cabinet officers. USTR solely manages the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee (IGPAC) and the Trade Advisory Committee on Africa (TACA). Those policy advisory committees managed jointly with the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency are, respectively, the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee (APAC), Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), and Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC). Each committee provides advice based upon the perspective of its specific area.
The 22 sectoral, and technical advisory committees are organized in two areas: industry and agriculture. Representatives are appointed jointly by the USTR and the Secretaries of Commerce and Agriculture, respectively. Each sectoral or technical committee represents a specific sector or commodity group (such as textiles or dairy products) and provides specific technical advice concerning the effect that trade policy decisions may have on its sector.
Click Here for more information on USTR's Advisory Committee System.
Working with Congress
Since its creation, USTR has worked hand-in-hand with Congress, including through frequent consultations with Members and staff of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Senate Committee on Finance (the two Committees with principle responsibility for international trade issues), and by providing detailed briefings for other committees, Congressional leadership offices, caucuses, and individual Members of Congress. For example, USTR provides detailed briefings on a regular basis for Members and staff of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, Banking and Financial Services, and Judiciary. USTR has provided and will continue to provide briefings and information to all committees, caucuses, and Congressional offices that express an interest in trade issues.
In addition to this consultation and briefing process, five Members from each Chamber are formally appointed under statute as official Congressional advisors on trade policy, and additional Members may be appointed as advisors on particular issues or negotiations. In short, interaction between USTR and Congress is extensive. USTR officials and staff participate in hundreds of congressional conversations each year on subjects ranging from tariffs to transparency and insurance to investment.
Click Here for a list of Congressional Committees regularly consulted on trade policy.