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U.S. Trade Policy Agenda Focuses on Approving TPP

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on 2 March released its annual report outlining the president’s trade objectives for this year. The report states in no uncertain terms that securing congressional approval of the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership is the president’s top trade priority for this year. TPP is described as “an indispensable part” of the president’s “middle class economics” concept, that is, the idea that “the country does best when everybody has a fair shot.” The report indicates that by opening the markets of the future for more U.S. goods and services the United States will be able to support high-wage jobs and economic strength at home. USTR goes to great detail to explain the features and benefits of TPP but does not offer any tips as to the possible timing and path ahead for an implementing bill.

On the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the trade agenda states that the administration will continue to seek input from Congress and stakeholders as part of on-going efforts to conclude an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard free trade agreement with the European Union but does not provide any new information on the actual discussions. The report does reiterate that the United States will seek to wrap up the TTIP talks as well as the negotiations on a Trade in Services Agreement this year. A potential timeline for conclusion is not given when the report turns to the Environmental Goods Agreement, a separate pluri-lateral effort that involves 16 of the world’s major traders of environmental goods.

The second of three chapters of the trade agenda comprehensively details U.S. efforts to shape tomorrow’s global economy. USTR notes that the administration is using trade policy to leverage U.S. strengths as the premier place for doing business and position the U.S. economy as the world’s production platform of choice. The United States is also spurring sustainable growth through its preference programmes and work at the World Trade Organisation while using every tool at its disposal to hold its trade partners accountable and ensure that economic growth benefits all workers. USTR adds that the United States is also strengthening trade and investment partnerships to unlock opportunities at home and around the world.

Among other actions, U.S. officials will continue to seek greater market access for and advance policies that protect and promote the spread of intellectual property-intensive products and services. USTR will use all appropriate trade policy tools to address key trade-related IP issues and resolve specific challenges in other markets that undermine the rights and ability of IP-intensive industries to compete on a level playing field. These initiatives include securing improvements in the protection and enforcement of copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets and other forms of intellectual property. The United States will continue to push other countries to combat trade secret theft, including by means of cyber theft, and fight corporate espionage, including by state-owned enterprises. The report also highlights the importance of advancing transparent and strong patent protections for cutting-edge innovations while discouraging over-broad protection of geographical indications in foreign markets.

Pursuing robust engagement with mainland China also remains a top priority for U.S. trade and economic officials. USTR mentions on-going efforts to favourably resolve trade disputes with Beijing involving taxes on smaller aircraft and a far-reaching export subsidy programme extending across sectors and dozens of sub-sectors, including textiles and industrial and agricultural products. USTR boasts that the United States has brought trade cases against mainland China “at nearly twice the rate as the last administration – and it’s made a difference.”

According to the report, the United States “will continue to push farther and dig deeper into trade distortions resulting from the complex web of industrial policies and bureaucratic systems of key trading partners” like mainland China. According to USTR, these and other activities are possible because of the language, data analysis, research and other expertise gathered together within the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (which is now known as the Interagency Center on Trade Implementation, Monitoring and Enforcement) and focused on specific trade issues.

USTR adds that this year the United States will continue to pursue core trade and investment objectives with mainland China using all available tools, including dialogue, negotiation and enforcement, “as we seek to open China’s market, ensure the unencumbered exercise of IPR in China, address China’s excess capacity in key sectors such as steel and aluminium, improve agricultural market access, remove regulatory barriers, especially in the technology sector, ensure industrial and competition policies do not discriminate or distort markets, and increase transparency across all sectors.”

Moreover, the administration is hoping to intensify negotiations with Beijing in order to reach agreement on a bi-lateral investment treaty that embraces the principles of openness, non-discrimination and transparency, provides pre-establishment national treatment and employs a negative list approach in identifying exceptions. The United States will also continue to work towards securing mainland China’s participation in the Government Procurement Agreement to support a rebalancing of the bi-lateral trade relationship by expanding U.S. sales into mainland China’s large government procurement market.

The report also outlines efforts to further strengthen U.S. economic and trade relations with such countries as India and South Korea as well as with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Among other initiatives, the administration plans to further intensify its engagement with ASEAN through trade workshops under the U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement and bi-laterally with the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to address specific issues and lay the groundwork for these countries to join high-standard trade agreements.

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