Office of the United States Trade Representative


USTR's Relationship with Other Government Agencies

More than a dozen government agencies, commissions and international courts have jurisdiction over some aspect of international trade. Many of these agencies work closely with USTR; others operate in a separate arena, for example, the agencies that provide “how to” advice and financial support for U.S. exporters. Several government agencies collect detailed trade-related economic data used by the public and private sector. Others deal with enforcement of international trade laws, and the distribution of U.S. aid to developing nations.
The Department of Commerce
The Commerce Department has a large staff and several offices devoted to trade, and a separate agency solely focused on trade. The International Trade Administration, is geared toward assisted U.S. businesses, including:

The Trade Information Center - a comprehensive resource for information on all U.S. federal government export assistance programs. It acts as a “hotline” answering questions about exporting and trade assistance, and includes a country-by-country breakdown of duties, exporting regulations, a list of trade “events” and information sessions.

        Import Administration - works  with USTR to protect U.S. firms against unfair trade practices. These actions include   dumping, subsidies and other unfair trade practices by foreign firms or states. 

        The Trade Development unit offers a well-coordinated, economical, and accessible array of services to help small businesses increase their export potential. Draws up retaliation lists that maximize penalties to offending trade partners and minimize their impact on the United States.

        Market Access and Compliance - Obtains market access for American firms that encounter foreign barriers to trade.

        The U.S. Commercial Service - Promotes U.S. exports abroad, especially small- and medium-sized business exports. The service acts much like a chamber of commerce or a business administration and lobbies for market access and protection of U.S. exports abroad.   

        The BuyUSA program - Brings suppliers of U.S. products and services together with international companies outside the United States, and give both groups the advocacy and services they need to conduct successful business worldwide.

        The Commerce Department also maintains a web portal called, which offers a wide array of information for exporting firms, geared towards first-time exporters. The site provides a “how to” manual for understanding government regulations, obtaining financing and other types of governmental assistance.
        Other Commerce agencies that focus on trade include:

        Bureau of the Census   - Maintains foreign trade statistics that track and categorize U.S. exporters by state, product and destination country.

        The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security - Regulates  export of sensitive goods and technologies, and cooperates with other countries on export control and strategic trade issues. Also assists U.S. industry in complying with international arms control agreements.
        The Patent and Trademark Office  - Enforces U.S. trademarks and intellectual property in other jurisdictions. Also, acts as advisor to the Department of Commerce and the president in matters of patent and trademark law.
        The Department of Labor

        The Bureau of International Affairs  - Coordinates international economic trade, immigration and labor policies with other government agencies. The agency focuses on international child labor standards and implements labor accords agreed to in international agreements. The agency also researches the impact of U.S. and international trade and immigration policies on U.S. workers.      

        The Department of Health and Human Services  

        The Food and Drug Administration – Enforces the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, which protects the health, safety and commercial interests of consumers.

        The Office of Regulatory Affairs Imports  – Coordinates with U.S. Customs to oversee regulations on imports. Alerts retailers, brokers, wholesalers and consumers of imports that have been detained.

        The Office of International Affairs - Coordinates FDA’s international presence in order to negotiate entry of U.S.  products into foreign markets and foreign products entry into U.S. markets.
        Department of Agriculture

        The Foreign Agriculture Service  – Bears primary responsibility for USDA’s overseas activities – market development, international trade agreements and negotiations, and the collection and analysis of statistics and market information. Also administers USDA's export credit guarantee and food aid programs, and helps increase income and food availability in developing nations by mobilizing expertise for agriculturally led economic growth.               

        Department of the Treasury

        The U.S. Customs Service - Patrols U.S. borders to intercept illegal drug shipments and other illegal goods, enforce U.S. tariffs, and provide advice to firms or people that want to import goods into the United States.

        The Office of Foreign Assets Control - Administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries, terrorism-sponsoring organizations and international narcotics traffickers based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. OFAC acts under presidential wartime and national emergency powers, as well as authority granted by specific legislation, to impose controls on transactions and freeze foreign assets under U.S. jurisdiction.
        Department of Justice

        The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section  coordinates international efforts to combat computer crime, such as hacking, piracy and violation of intellectual property violations. The agency also enforces the Economic Espionage Act, deterring and punishing the theft of trade secrets.

        Department of Transportation

        The United States has a major stake in setting standards that will allow for the uninterrupted flow of commerce over the high waters. Over 95 percent of our nation’s imports and exports are carried by ship, and the majority of these ships are foreign-flagged. The Coast Guard is the lead agency for developing uniform international standards that apply to ships worldwide. The Coast Guard also assists U.S. Customs in enforcing U.S. laws and treaties, through multi-agency counter-drug operations and seizure of illegal contraband.
        The Federal Highway Administration maintains and administers America’s network of highways and other federal roads. The administration creates and enforces regulations governing the size and weight of trucks and other commercial vehicles on America’s roads. These regulations, along with others, come into consideration when American businesses and officials discuss cross-border trade with Canada and Mexico.

        Department of State

        In years past, the State Department was responsible for negotiating all trade agreements. But in 1962, Congress created the Office of the United States Trade Representative to separate the commercial interests of trade from U.S. foreign policy goals. The State Department still retains a role in trade policy and promotion, primarily through its Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs which promotes U.S. business interests overseas.

        The Bureau’s Trade Policy and Programs Division advances economic prosperity by increasing trade through the opening of overseas markets and freeing the flow of goods, services, and capital. The division works closely with USTR and other government agencies to expand open market approaches to trade; enforce rules and agreements to reduce and eliminate foreign trade barriers, increase transparency, and strengthen the rule of law; combat foreign competitive practices that impede U.S. access to markets; and promote U.S. trade interests within the World Trade Organization (WTO) and regional trade organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the North American Free Trade Agreement Secretariat (NAFTA), and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

        Federal Trade Commission

        The Federal Trade Commission protects consumers from potential market distortions and unfair actions by domestic and foreign firms. In some circumstances the FTC acts as an advisor to executive and independent agencies, the White House, congress and state and local governments when requested. The agency also enforces a variety federal antitrust and consumer protection laws. The Commission seeks to ensure that the nation's markets function competitively, and are vigorous, efficient, and free of undue restrictions.

        Environmental Protection Agency

        The Office of International Affairs  coordinates international environmental policy, by sharing information and technologies with other governments and setting standards for environmental quality.
        The Office of Pesticides Programs protects the standards and safety of U.S. food by conducting research, tests, and controlling the use of pesticides. The office works with other government agencies to ensure that international agreements are consistent with U.S. domestic standards involving the management of chemicals.
        U.S. Trade and Development Agency

        The Trade and Development Agency is an independent agency that promotes U.S. products in emerging markets. The agency focuses primarily on developing the South African, Thai and Croatian markets currently but also offers funding and support worldwide. The agency works closely with the Department of Commerce, the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation in funding various forms of technical assistance, feasibility studies, training, orientation visits and business workshops that support the development of a modern infrastructure and a fair and open trading environment.

        U.S. International Trade Commission

        The U.S. International Trade Commission  is an independent, quasi-judicial federal agency that provides trade expertise to both the legislative and executive branches of government, determines the impact of imports on U.S. industries, and directs actions against certain unfair trade practices, such as patent, trademark, and copyright infringement.

        The mission of the Commission is to: (1) administer U.S. trade remedy laws within its mandate in a fair and objective manner; (2) provide the President, USTR, and Congress with independent, quality analysis, information, and support on matters of tariffs and international trade and competitiveness; and (3) maintain the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.

        U.S. Court of International Trade

        Congress, with the Customs Courts Act of 1980, equipped the federal judicial system to handle the increasingly complex problems arising from international trade litigation. The Act expanded the powers of the former United States Customs Court and changed its name to the United States Court of International Trade. The court’s main responsibility is to review civil actions arising out of import transactions and federal statutes affecting international trade.

        The court also ensures expeditious procedures, avoids jurisdictional conflicts among federal courts, and provides uniformity in the judicial decision-making process for import transactions. The president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints the nine judges who constitute the United States Court of International Trade. The judges are appointed for life. The court, which resides in New York, has national as well as international jurisdiction.
        The Export-Import Bank of the United States

        The Export-Import Bank of the United States is an independent federal agency which helps exporters become more competitive in the global marketplace through export finance programs. The Export-Import Bank provides guarantees of working capital loans for U.S. exporters, guarantees the repayment of loans or makes loans to foreign purchasers of U.S. goods and services and provides credit insurance against non-payment by foreign buyers for political or commercial risk. The Bank focuses on exports to developing countries, aggressively countering trade subsidies of other governments, stimulating small business transactions, promoting the export of environmentally beneficial goods and services, and expanding project finance capabilities. Ex-Im Bank is encouraged to supplement, but not compete with private capital.

        Agency for International Development

        The Agency for International Development is charged with distributing American aid throughout the world. USAID has been the principal U.S. agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms. USAID attempts to further US foreign policy objectives by supporting the following:  economic growth, international trade, agriculture, global health, democracy, and conflict and humanitarian assistance.

        The agency receives guidance from the State Department and collaborates with 3,500 U.S. companies, universities and voluntary organizations. USAID organizes missions to developing and least developed countries, oriented toward increasing their access to trade by promoting investment and building trade infrastructure.

        The Overseas Private Investment Corporation  

        The Overseas Private Investment Corporation  is a self-sustaining U.S. government agency whose mission is to encourage economic development in new and emerging markets, create U.S. jobs by helping U.S. businesses invest overseas and support U.S. foreign policy. The agency provides financial assistance to companies through direct loans and loan guarantees, and offers up to $400 million in “risk” insurance for projects to help get projects off the ground and running successfully.

        OPIC sponsors and participates in numerous seminars and conferences throughout the world to increase awareness among U.S. companies, especially small and medium-sized firms, of opportunities for business expansion through overseas investment. To enhance its outreach, OPIC works closely with other federal government agencies, state and local governments, private organizations and multilateral institutions. In addition OPIC provides insurance and loans to exporting firms in order to minimize the risks of doing business on world market.

        Small Business Administration

        The U.S. Small Business Administration provides export information and development assistance to help small businesses take advantage of export markets, including trade counseling, training, legal assistance and publications. Some of the services it provides includes U.S. Export Centers, which are one-stop shops that provide advice for small- or medium-sized business that want to export, trade  publications, legal assistance, and an on-line guide to exporting that covers everything from financing options to creating a business plan.

        The Office of International Trade assists small business in their international endeavors, providing export information, development assistance, trade counseling, training, legal assistance and publications. Like other export-promoting agencies, the primary tools of this agency are information and training programs.         


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