The United States Trade Representative and its Responsibilities

By: David Jankowski

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While tariffs still constitute an important source of distortions and economic costs, the relative role of tariffs in shaping international trade has declined due in large part to successful rounds of multilateral tariff reductions in the WTO and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1947). As tariff barriers to trade have declined, standards-related measures (standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures) have begun to play a critical role in shaping the flow of international trade. While standards-related measures can be used as an effective and efficient means of achieving legitimate commercial and policy objectives; outdated, overly burdensome, discriminatory, or otherwise inappropriate standards-related measures can reduce competition, stifle innovation, and create unnecessary technical barriers to trade. A broad and active agenda of U.S. engagement is needed to ensure that foreign standards-related measures do not impose unwarranted barriers to trade. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is the lead agency within the Federal Government for addressing these measures. The USTR has primary responsibility, with the advice of the interagency trade policy organization, for developing and coordinating the implementation of U.S. trade policy. 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. Through this process the USTR utilizes its toolkit of bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements and mechanisms to dismantle unjustifiable barriers to safe, high quality U.S. industrial, consumer, and agricultural exports and strengthen the rules-based trading system. 800px-US_trade_final-01.svg

*A Graphic of US trade relations around the world (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Coordinating with relevant agencies through the TPSC, USTR works to resolve and prevent standards-related trade concerns through new and existing cooperative initiatives in the World Trade Organization (WTO), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and other bilateral fora. U.S. activities in the WTO are at the forefront of USTR’s efforts to prevent and resolve trade concerns arising from standards-related measures. USTR also raises standards-related issues in bilateral dialogues with U.S. trading partners. These efforts are designed to ensure that U.S. trading partners adhere to internationally agreed rules governing these measures and to reduce or eliminate unnecessary measures that can create barriers for U.S. producers and businesses. Additionally, USTR pushes for progress on the negotiation of a modernized trade agreements. The Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) builds on and strengthens TBT disciplines contained in the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). The United States is emphasizing several key issues, including regulatory transparency, the use of good regulatory practices (GRPs), and the acceptance of the results of conformity assessment procedures carried out in TPP countries. The overall U.S. objective is to establish rules and disciplines for standards-related measures that reduce the likelihood that TPP countries will create or maintain standards-related measures that act as unwarranted barriers to trade.

TOKYO, Japan (August 18, 2013) United States Trade Representative Michael Froman with Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi [State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]
TOKYO, Japan (August 18, 2013) United States Trade Representative
Michael Froman with Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi [State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]

Similarly, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’s (T-TIP) potential benefits stem in large part from the parties’ ability to significantly reduce or eliminate nontariff barriers, addressing nontariff barriers in the form of regulatory restrictions that impose significant costs, create unnecessary barriers, reduce efficiency in the transatlantic market, and limit the capacity of U.S. and EU firms to innovate and compete in global markets, is a key aspect of achieving the more integrated transatlantic marketplace envisaged by TTIP. Thus, in the negotiations the United States strives to reduce such barriers and prevent future ones, while ensuring our continued ability to regulate to achieve health, safety, environmental and other legitimate regulatory objectives. The USTR also interacts with developing markets. In November 2012, the United States launched a new assistance facility called the “Standards Alliance” to help build capacity among developing countries to implement the TBT Agreement. The Standards Alliance will help developing countries strengthen implementation of the TBT Agreement, and aid them in improving their notification and domestic practices related to adopting relevant international standards and to clarify and streamline their regulatory processes for products. This program aims to reduce the costs and bureaucratic hurdles U.S. exporters face in foreign markets, and increase the competitiveness of American products, particularly in developing markets.


10996559_10102514738376102_2584848218111765962_nDavid recently completed an internship for the United States Trade Representative in Washington D.C.  He is a Master’s Candidate at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

He is a former professional athlete with a passion for diplomatic relations, international trade, and international athletics. Contact David with any questions, comments or opportunities: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jankowskidavid

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