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Key Documents on U.S. Trade Policy

Under U.S. law, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and other agencies with responsibility over trade policy are required to produce certain periodic reports. Some are merely advisory or factual, while others can lead to legal or other consequences. Most of these documents are produced on an annual basis, but others are required with greater or lesser frequency. Some agencies, notably the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), are also called upon by Congress, the USTR, or other agencies to produce reports on more specific topics on a one-time basis.

The more significant of these reports are listed below. Note that in some cases the links lead to the reports as posted by the issuing agency on its own web site, while other liks are to versions of the reports stored on the WTR site.


USTR Reciprocity and Strategy Reports

Under statutes enacted in the 1980s and subsequently amended, some of which are related to the U.S. "reciprocity" laws, the USTR is required each year to produce a series of reports on trading partners' trade policies. These can lead to investigations, disputes, and the threat or imposition of retaliatory measures. These are listed below according to the deadlines set by law.

Trade Policy Agenda and Annual Report (March 1):
Another trade law (19 USC 2213) requires that the USTR issue annual reports on both "the operation of the trade agreements program, and the provision of import relief and adjustment assistance to workers and firms, under this chapter during the preceding calendar year" and "the national trade policy agenda for the year in which the report is submitted." These are generally less detailed and consequential than the reciprocity laws listed above and below. It has been the practice of the USTR to combine these two reports into one annual document. The retrospective reports are generally less informative than the USITC's annual reviews (see below), and the prospective report rarely signals major changes in policy.

See the report issued in 2012.

National Trade Estimate on Foreign Trade Barriers
(End of March):
This report, as required by 19 USC 2241, is an annual catalog of partners' policies that may be alleged to violate U.S. rights. More formally, it lists those "acts, policies, or practices of each foreign country which constitute significant barriers to, or distortions of (i) United States exports of goods or services (including agricultural commodities; and property protected by trademarks, patents, and copyrights exported or licensed by United States persons); (ii) foreign direct investment by United States persons, especially if such investment has implications for trade in goods or services; and (iii) United States electronic commerce." Some of the measures listed in these reports lead to requests for consultations and, if the matter is not resolved, to cases under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding or other dispute-settlement rules (e.g., as provided for in a free trade agreement with the partner).

See the NTE report issued in 2011.

Telecommunications Reciprocity
(End of March):
Section 1377 of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, also known as the Telecommunications Trade Act and codified as 19 USC 3106, requires that as the USTR prepares the aforementioned National Trade Estimate it "review the operation and effectiveness of (A) each trade agreement negotiated by reason of this chapter that is in force with respect to the United States; and (B) every other trade agreement regarding telecommunications products or services that is in force with respect to the United States."

See the Section 1377 report issued in 2011.

Special 301 Intellectual Property
(End of April):
The Special 301 law (19 USC 2242) requires that within a month of issuing the NTE report the USTR identify "those foreign countries that (A) deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, or (B) deny fair and equitable market access to United States persons that rely upon intellectual property protection," and also indicate which of them "are determined by the Trade Representative to be priority foreign countries." These countries may be made subject to the threat of retaliation.

See the Special 301 report issued in 2011.


U.S. International Trade Commission Reports

The Year in Trade
The single best source of information on past actions that the United States has taken in trade policy is the USITC's Year in Trade series. Once entitled Operation of the Trade Agreements Program, these reports have been issued since 1949 and cover the full range of issues in trade: trends and statistics, negotiations, legislation, trade-remedy cases, and international disputes. The report covering a given calendar year will generally be completed seven months later.

See the report covering 2010.


Section 332 Reports
The USITC is also required under Section 332 of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930 (19 USC 1332) to prepare advisory reports upon the request of congressional committees or the USTR. Some of these so-called Section 332 reports are issued on a one-time-only basis, while others are updated annually or on other schedules. Some of these reports are produced on a confidential basis, especially those that are requested by the USTR as it prepares for negotiations; others are entirely public; and a few are prepared in both confidential and public versions.

Reports are posted at