Office of the United States Trade Representative

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Office of the United States Trade Representative
Agency overview
Formed 1962
Preceding agency Office of the Special Trade Representative
Headquarters Winder Building 600 17th St. NW Washington, D.C.
Employees 200
Agency executives Ron Kirk, Ambassador
Peter Allgeier, Deputy Ambassador
Demetrios Marantis, Deputy Ambassador
Parent agency Executive Office of the President of the United States
     Priority Watch List      Watch List      Section 306 Monitoring      Status Pending

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is the United States government agency responsible for developing and recommending United States trade policy to the President of the United States, conducting trade negotiations at bilateral and multilateral levels, and coordinating trade policy within the government through the interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC) and Trade Policy Review Group (TPRG).

Established as the Office of the Special Trade Representative (STR) under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the USTR is part of the Executive Office of the President. With over 200 employees, the USTR has offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and Brussels, Belgium. The current United States Trade Representative is Ron Kirk.




The head of the office holds the title of United States Trade Representative (USTR), which is a Cabinet-level position (though not technically within the Cabinet). The United States Trade Representative and Deputy United States Trade Representatives (DUSTR) carry the title of Ambassador.

Ron Kirk is the current Trade Representative, with Demetrios Marantis, Michael Punke and Miriam Sapiro serving as Deputy Trade Representatives.

  The Special 301 Report

Since the enactment of Section 182 of the Trade Act of 1974, the USTR has played a key role in the expansion of intellectual property laws worldwide, and monitored efforts by other governments to protect IP rights.

The Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 created the Special 301 mechanism[1] , the USTR issues an annual Special 301 Report which "examines in detail the adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights" in many countries around the world. Countries may be designated in the categories of Priority Watch List, Watch List, and/or Section 306 Monitoring status.

The Report also regularly attacks price controls that distort and damage free market incentives for the creation of intellectual property, particularly in the area of pharmaceuticals.[citation needed]

Most countries included in the Priority Watch List and Watch List between 1996 and 2000 were requested by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or International Intellectual Property Alliance.[2] For example, Finland was blacklisted in retaliation to unanimously adopted legistlation requiring the tax-funded Social Insurance Institution to reimburse the cost of medications only up to the price of the cheapest generic. Intellectual property is not violated, as this affects all manufacturers equally. This retaliatory measure has had a negative impact on investment decisions unrelated to pharmaceuticals.[3]

The list has been used by Copyright industries to pressure other nations to adopt stricter copyright laws and take a more active role in combating Copyright infringements. [4]

Andres Guadamuz, a lecturer in law at the University of Edinburgh discovered that the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) representing the U.S. media industry is urging the United States government to consider countries like Indonesia, Brazil and India to be put on the Special 301 watchlist because of them mandating or suggesting the use of open source software, somehow considering it as a harmful act roughly equivalent to not combating piracy, and not taking into account that also many of the U.S. companies that the IIPA represents depend on using open source software in their own business.[5]

Mission of the USTR

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.

Our expertise

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.

Outside advisors

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). 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 maintained close consultation with Congress. 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. Liaison activities between the agency and Congress are extensive.

USTR provides detailed briefings on a regular basis for the Congressional Oversight Group, a new organization composed of members from a broad range of congressional committees. In addition, USTR officials and staff participate in hundreds of congressional conversations each year on subjects ranging from tariffs to textiles.

Click Here for a list of Congressional Committees regularly consulted on trade policy.


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