The Presidency


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The Presidency in Trade 

Information Courtesy Congressional Research Service, R45148

What are the functions of the executive branch in U.S. trade policy?

While the Constitution designates Congress as the primary authority over trade policy, the executive branch executes trade policy in various ways, through delegated authorities (see “Role of Congress” above). Under the Constitution, the President has the responsibility for conducting the nation’s foreign relations and negotiating treaties with other nations. The executive branch negotiates, implements, and monitors U.S. trade agreements. The executive branch is also responsible for customs enforcement and collection of duties; implementation of trade remedy and other trade laws, through which Congress has delegated to the executive branch certain tariff authorities; budget proposals for trade programs and agencies; and administering export and import policies, among other functions. In addition, the President sets the overall domestic and foreign policy frameworks that inform trade policy.

Who is in charge of U.S. trade policy?

The President directs overall trade policy in the executive branch and performs specific trade functions granted by statute, such as adjusting tariff rates through delegated authority. The chief adviser on trade policy to the President is the USTR, a Cabinet-level appointment. The USTR has primary responsibility for developing, coordinating, and implementing trade policy, as well as negotiating multilateral, regional, and bilateral trade agreements and enforcing U.S. trade laws. The USTR reports annually on the President’s trade policy agenda—due to Congress by March 1st each year—and on foreign trade barriers. Congress created the USTR in 1962 (originally the Office of the Special Representative for Trade Negotiations, STR) to heighten the profile of trade and provide better balance between competing domestic and international interests in the formulation and implementation of U.S. trade policy and negotiations, previously managed by the State Department. Congress expanded its role in the 1970s and 1980s, as part of the Executive Office of the President and cabinet level.

Many trade functions have been delegated by Congress and the President to various departments and agencies within the executive branch. These agencies administer the government’s trade functions, coordinating U.S. positions through an interagency process and with input from public and private sector advisory groups. Other key agencies with trade policymaking and enforcement responsibilities include the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, State and the Treasury. The Departments of Homeland Security and Labor are also involved in trade enforcement.

When does the President get involved in trade decisions?

The President is responsible for influencing the direction of trade policy and legislation, signing trade legislation into law, and making other specific decisions on U.S. trade policies and programs when the President deems that the national interest or the political environment requires direct participation. This can take place in many areas of trade policy, such as requesting TPA, initiating critical trade remedy cases and/or deciding whether to impose recommended import restrictions in certain investigations. In addition, the President can influence trade relations through meetings or communications with foreign heads of state, and regarding other trade policy areas subject to or requiring high political visibility.


The Interagency Coordination Process

Information Courtesy Congressional Research Service, R45148

What is the interagency process?

The USTR has primary responsibility for trade negotiations and trade policy decisions across the U.S. government or among government agencies or within the executive branch. However, such trade responsibilities and decisions often involve issues that overlap or fall within the jurisdiction of other Cabinet-level departments, requiring a multidepartment interagency process. To implement this process, Congress initially established the Trade Policy Committee, chaired by USTR and consisting of the Secretaries of the Treasury, Commerce, State, Agriculture, Labor, and other department heads as USTR deems appropriate. Two sub-Cabinet groups were subsequently established—the Trade Policy Review Group (TPRG, sub-Cabinet or deputies level) and the Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC, staff level), composed of some 20 agencies. The executive branch also solicits advice from a three-tier trade advisory committee system mandated by Congress that consists of private sector and nonfederal government representatives.

To see a breakdown of interaction between Trade Advisory Groups, Federal agencies, the TPRG, and TPSC, see US Trade Policy: An Overview