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Current Developments in U.S. Policy

The two most important issues in the institutions and rules of trade concern forms of "fast track" authority. That term is usually employed by trade professionals to mean a law that establishes expedited procedures for congressional approval of the implementing legislation for trade agreements. There is another law that is also known by that same title, however, that similarly establishes expedited procedures for the congressional approval of a president's plans.

The Obama administration has already made a formal request for the second type of fast-track authority, asking that Congress renew the Reorganization Act of 1977. That law allows presidents to devise plans to reorganize agencies and to submit them for up-or-down votes in Congress. The administration wants this power in order to effect a reorganization of U.S. trade agencies and, by implication, to reorder U.S. priorities in trade policymaking.

President Obama announced his plans for a trade reorganization on January 13, 2012. The somewhat sketchy proposal calls for the consolidation of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, much of the Department of Commerce, and four other agencies into one as-yet unnamed department. The other components would be the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

WTR's analysis of this proposal provides context by reviewing how the structure of U.S. agencies has evolved over generations in response to changing needs and the politics of trade; examining the current trade policy machinery and how the proposal would remake it; surveying the initial reactions to this latest initiative from legislators, analysts, and stakeholders; and summarizing the special procedures by which the Obama administration proposes to achieve this reorganization. The analysis stresses that this proposal has some very high hurdles to clear, and that this could prove to be far too difficult to achieve in an election year. It also observes how an initiative to fold USTR into a trade-promotion and -enforcement agency is consistent with the administrationís preference for making the most of existing trade agreements over the negotiation or approval of new ones.

Another and related issue concerns the request for a new grant of fast-track negotiating authority. Also known as trade promotion authority (TPA), this power is generally considered indispensable for the completion and approval of trade negotiations. The last such grant expired in mid-2007, and while the Obama administration has long indicated that it would eventually request renewed fast-track authority it was not willing to set any sort of timetable. That changed with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk's testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee in February, where he indicated that the administration would need a new grant before the end of 2012 in order to complete the TransPacific Partnership negotiations.     

:: Treaties and Coherence :: Institutional Provisions of WTO Law :: U.S. Trade Policymaking Process

The key agreement agreement is the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

See also the Charter of the United Nations, and (for historical perspective) the Treaty of Westphalia and the Treaty of Versailles.

On the relations between institutions and their laws, see the Declaration on the Contribution of the World Trade Organization to Achieving Greater Coherence in Global Economic Policymaking and the Declaration on the Relationship of the World Trade Organization with the International Monetary Fund.

The key agreement in WTO law is the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization. See also the Declaration on the Contribution of the World Trade Organization to Achieving Greater Coherence in Global Economic Policymaking, the Decision on Notification Procedures, and the Decision on Institutional Arrangements for the General Agreement on Trade in Services.

Numerous other WTO agreements include provisions that establish subsidiary bodies. See for example the provisions that establish the Council for Trade in Services (GATS Article XXIV), the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Article 68 of the TRIPs Agreement), and the Committee on Agriculture (Article 17 of the Agreement on Agriculture).

In addition to Constitution, the principal U.S. laws regarding the policymaking process are those dealing with the following:

See also the reading on The Legislative Process and the Fast Track and the 2012 executive order creating the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center.