You are here
Overview of Trade Negotiations
Under the U.S. Constitution, the President is responsible for conducting U.S. foreign relations, including by negotiating and concluding trade and investment agreements with other governments. By delegation from the President and by statute, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has primary responsibility for developing and coordinating U.S. trade policy and for leading trade and investment negotiations on behalf of the United States. USTR acts with the advice of the interagency trade policy organization.
USTR works closely with the public’s representatives in Congress to conclude trade and investment agreements that benefit the American people and promote core U.S. values. Before it initiates negotiations to conclude broad, free trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), USTR provides Congress and the public a written set of U.S. negotiating objectives. USTR consults extensively with key Congressional committees, interested Members of Congress, as well as with a wide range of trade advisory committees, both before the negotiations begin and after they are underway to solicit views and to keep them apprised as the negotiations progress. In addition, Congress has created a special Congressional Oversight Group to provide advice to USTR regarding U.S. objectives, positions, and strategies in trade negotiations. USTR also routinely solicits views from the public and interested stakeholders.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations
In the Trans-Pacific Partnership, USTR has endeavored to ensure that all voices are heard in the attempt to find the correct balance of views on complicated and complex trade issues.
To ensure public input on TPP from the start, USTR solicited written comments from interested individuals, organizations, and businesses before entering into the talks. USTR also sought advice before negotiations began – and continues to do so as they progress – from scores of individual advisors from outside government who serve as members of the Administration’s many trade advisory committees. Each committee is part of a broad-based trade advisory system that Congress has established under U.S. law. USTR keeps the advisors up to date as the negotiations proceed and continues to solicit their advice on U.S. negotiating proposals. Finally, USTR will publish the full text of the TPP – as we do with all FTAs we negotiate – well before it is signed to invite further comments from Congress, trade advisors, and the public.
Since 2009, USTR has also heard from and shared information with a wide variety of stakeholders, including civil society, non-governmental organizations, labor unions, concerned citizens, businesses engaged in trade, and members of academia in hundreds of meetings and briefings on the TPP negotiations.
Confidentiality in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks
Major trade and investment negotiations address a broad range of often complex and commercially sensitive sectors and issues and often take many months or even years to conclude. In order to reach agreements that each participating government can fully embrace, negotiators need to communicate with each other with a high degree of candor, creativity, and mutual trust. To create the conditions necessary to successfully reach agreement in complex trade and investment negotiations, governments routinely keep their proposals and communications with each other confidential.
As is common practice in U.S. free trade negotiations, when the TPP negotiations got underway in 2009, the United States and its TPP negotiating partners entered into a confidentiality arrangement reflecting the customary understanding between countries engaged in trade negotiations that the negotiations should be carried out in private. The understanding calls for each government to disseminate its negotiating proposals, as well as those it receives from its TPP partners, solely to government officials and individuals who are part of the government’s domestic trade advisory process.
Consultation with Congress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Since its creation, USTR has worked closely with Congress on negotiation of trade agreements and on other trade-related issues. As a matter of longstanding policy and practice, USTR has provided any Member of Congress access to classified negotiating documents and texts on request, and works with the respective security offices in each chamber to accommodate the Members appropriately.
In the Trade Act of 2002, Congress created the Congressional Oversight Group (COG), comprised of: 1) the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Ways and Means (Ways and Means) and the Senate Committee on Finance (Finance), and three additional members of each of those committees (not more than two of whom are members of the same political party); and 2) the chairman and ranking member, or their designees, of House committees and Senate committees with jurisdiction over provisions of law affected by ongoing trade negotiations. In addition, five members from each House 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.
USTR consults with Members and staff of the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, and other relevant committees throughout trade negotiations. Since 2009, USTR has consulted with the staff of the Finance and Ways and Means Committees hundreds of times on the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. In the same period, USTR has consulted with the staffs of the following committees on TPP negotiating issues related to their particular jurisdiction: House Agriculture, Senate Agriculture, House Judiciary, Senate Judiciary, House Financial Services, Senate Banking, House Foreign Affairs, Senate Foreign Relations, House Education and Workforce, and Health, Education, Labor, and Pension. In addition, USTR has consulted with interested Congressional offices and caucuses. The often daily communication between USTR and Congressional staffs demonstrates the premium USTR has placed on conducting the TPP negotiations with input from those elected to represent Americans’ interests in Washington.
Stakeholder Engagement at U.S.-Hosted Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiating Rounds
USTR has invited stakeholders representing business, labor, academic groups and the public to be on-site at each of the three TPP negotiating rounds held in the United States to date to interact with TPP negotiators and delegates from the United States and the other TPP countries. As a result, hundreds of stakeholders have participated in meetings with, and expressed their views directly to, TPP negotiators over the course of these negotiating rounds. Hundreds more are expected to participate in stakeholder events at the forthcoming San Diego round. A list of organizations that have participated as stakeholders in TPP negotiating rounds is available online.
Before each U.S.-hosted TPP negotiating round, USTR has supplied all registered stakeholders with a point of contact in each TPP country delegation to help them schedule meetings to address specific concerns.
During the San Francisco and Chicago rounds, USTR gave stakeholders an opportunity to make formal presentations to negotiators and other stakeholders. During the recent Dallas round, USTR invited every registered stakeholder to host a presentation space and table at as part of a “Direct Stakeholder Engagement Event” lasting several hours.
USTR distributed surveys to all participants in the Dallas “Stakeholder Engagement Event.” Thirty-five of the 50 participating organizations returned surveys, providing valuable feedback on the event’s structure. As a direct result of this feedback, USTR altered the format for stakeholder engagement in the upcoming San Diego round to accommodate stakeholder requests to have the opportunity both to make formal presentations to negotiators and to speak with delegates at stakeholder tables. In addition, in response to stakeholder feedback, USTR provided planning information earlier for the San Diego round.
The following chart shows stakeholder participation at the rounds (San Diego based on current registrations):
|San Francisco||6/14/10 - 6/18/10||35||6||-|
|Chicago||9/6/11 - 9/15/11||250||60||-|
|Dallas||5/8/12 - 5/18/12||300||-||50|
|San Diego||7/2/12 - 7/10/12||293||34||60|
Trade Advisory Committees
In the Trade Act of 1974, Congress directed the President to establish the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations and a wide range of other policy and technical trade advisory committees. These committees include representatives from industry, agriculture, services, labor, state and local governments, and public interest groups. The committees provide policy advice, technical advice and information, and other advice on, negotiating objectives and bargaining positions, the operation of any trade agreement, and other matters arising in connection with the implementation of U.S. trade policy.
USTR works closely with its trade advisory committees throughout the negotiating process to solicit their comments, advice, and feedback on various chapters and negotiating positions, and to regularly brief them on progress in the TPP negotiations.
Over the course of the TPP negotiations, USTR has conducted more than 147 meetings with the trade advisory committees. Since June 11, 2010, USTR has posted 110 TPP documents to a website for cleared trade advisors to review and provide comments.
New Responses to Calls for TPP Transparency
On June 12, 2012, USTR representatives spoke with the more than 80 members of trade advisory committees to discuss the guidelines for consultations with constituents who are not cleared advisors, and advised committee members how they could effectively seek input from their constituents on the TPP negotiations.
USTR invited over 250 Civil Society stakeholders to a briefing held on June 19, 2012 and provided non-governmental organizations the opportunity to discuss specific issues with USTR negotiators.
USTR has also published notices in the Federal Register inviting input from the public on the TPP negotiations and has received several hundred comments. These can be viewed online here.
USTR will continue to engage with stakeholders to find ways to increase transparency in the TPP negotiations, while moving ahead toward an innovative, groundbreaking 21st-century trade agreement that will support more jobs for working Americans here at home.
“This Administration deserves to be commended for the outreach in which it has engaged. The cleared advisors for the AFL-CIO and its affiliates have spent dozens of hours discussing with Administration negotiators the specific issues that are involved in the TPP talks and offering concrete recommendations. We have appreciated the spirit of cooperation and dialogue exhibited by the Administration at all levels…
…the AFL-CIO has concerns about the overall secrecy of trade negotiations in general and would recommend broader sharing of USTR’s negotiating goals and proposals beyond the cleared advisor community. However, the level of engagement has been noteworthy…”
- Celeste Drake, AFL-CIO, in Congressional testimony
“The USTR's stakeholder engagement website includes instructions both for registering for a stakeholder tables event and for making arrangements to make more formal presentations to negotiators.It's encouraging to see the USTR respond to stakeholder feedback so quickly and become more open to accommodating the needs of a variety of stakeholders.
… Transparency is a two-way street, and increasing the amount of information flowing from stakeholders to the government does not lessen the government's obligation to provide information about its activities and proposals to the public. That said, the USTR's efforts to help stakeholders engage with negotiators and make their case before the negotiating countries is promising.”
- Jodie Griffin, Public Knowledge Policy Blog