International Trade Portal

Jump to Subjects on this Page:

Recent Developments
Major Actions in the 114th Congress
Current Trade Statistics
Federal Agencies with International Trade Responsibilities
Nonpartisan Reports on Trade

Recent Developments in International Trade

  • April 10, 2018CNBC reports that “Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans on Tuesday to open up the Chinese economy, including lowering tariffs for autos and other products and enforcing the legal intellectual property of foreign firms.”
  • Reuters graphic showing Chinese and U.S. tariffs impacted by potential tariffs
  • April 8, 2018: Former Sec. of Treasury Larry Summers’ interview with Fareed Zakaria on China tariffs.
  • April 6, 2018:  White House follow-up statement on proposed tariffs
  • April 5, 2018:  President Trump instructs USTR to “consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate” — increasing the level of potential tariffs from $50b to $150b.
  • April 4, 2018: Chinese government announced another $50 billion in  retaliatory tariffs — 25% on 106 products from the U.S. including soybeans, corn products, cars, some types of aircraft, and chemicals.  CRS releases analysis of China’s Retaliatory Tariffs on Selected U.S. Agricultural Products.
  • April 3, 2018:  USTR announced $50 billion in proposed tariffs on imports from China, including a 25% tariff on nearly 1,300 Chinese goods, from the aerospace, manufacturing, and medical industries, “as part of the U.S. response to China’s unfair trade practices related to the forced transfer of U.S. technology and intellectual property.”  The tariffs do not go into effect until the public comment process is complete; public hearing is scheduled for May 15 and final due date for post-hearing comments is May 22.
  • April 1, 2018:  China announced tariffsin response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminumon $3 billion of U.S. imports, including a 15% duty on 128 American products including fruits, nuts, wine and steel pipes and a 25% tax on eight others, including recycled aluminum and pork.
  • March 28, 2018:  USTR releases National Trade Estimate Report, including summary of grievances against China.
  • March 8, 2018:  President Trump issued two presidential proclamations, ordering steep tariffs on imported steel and imported aluminum from every country except Canada and Mexico. The president ordered a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent levy on imported aluminum to take effect in 15 days.  Read this CRS Background Report
    • Canada is the leading supplier of imported steel and aluminum to the U.S., accounting for 16 percent of imported steel and 41 percent of imported aluminum, as CNBC has reported.
    • The Commerce Department noted that employment in the domestic steel industry has shrunk by 35 percent in the past two decades, while the aluminum industry shed nearly 60 percent of its jobs between 2013 and 2016.
    • According to NPR, critics worry that tariffs will increase costs for businesses and consumers and spark retaliation from America’s trading partners.
    • Authority for the tariffs is a 1960s law (sec. 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962) that was designed to protect domestic industries deemed vital to national defense.  However, Defense Secretary James Mattis questioned that premise, noting that military demand for steel and aluminum can be met with just 3 percent of domestic production.
  • Feb 16, 2018:  Commerce Department released reports on investigations into the impact on U.S. national security from imports of steel mill products and from imports of wrought and unwrought aluminum.
  • Jan 30, 2018: Three dozen Senate Republicans called on President Trump to preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “The next step to advance the economy requires that we keep NAFTA in place, but modernize it to better reflect our 21st century economy,” the 36 senators wrote.  Text of the letter
  • Jan 22, 2018: Trump Imposes 30% Tariffs on Solar Panels and 20% tariffs on Washing Machines, Hitting China and S. Korea.  U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, announcing the new tariffs, accused China and the South Korean firms LG and Samsung of unfair trade practices including large government subsidies.  USTR fact sheet
    • What is a Section 201 Trade Case?  The tariffs were imposed under section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, which authorizes temporary import relief (such as tariffs) in situations where surges of specific imported products are causing “serious injury” to an American industry; the objective is to give domestic industry time to adjust to the surge in competition.
      • A representative of the industry may petition the independent U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to investigate whether trade relief is necessary and make recommendations to the President. Background on Trade Remedies
      • The last time Section 201 was invoked was 2002 by President Bush in response to steel import surges, although the tariffs were withdrawn in 2003 after the WTO ruled against the U.S. and retaliatory measures were threatened.
    • President’s authority: The Constitution gives Congress the power to impose and collect duties and “to regulate commerce with foreign nations,” although Congress has delegated to the President the power to modify tariffs when certain findings are made. Background: Presidential Authority over Trade – Imposing Tariffs and Duties 
  • October 25, 2017:  Business sector letter expressing concern about potential NAFTA withdrawal.
  • August 14, 2017:  President Trump directs USTR to determine whether to conduct an investigation China’s trade practices with a particular focus on alleged Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property.
  • April 20, 2017:  President Trump directed the Department of Commerce to investigate whether imports of steel from China and other countries could be a threat to national security.           

[Back to Top of Page]

Major Actions in the 114th Congress (2015-16)

  • Renewed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) through July 1, 2021 (subject to passage of an extension disapproval resolution in 2018), allowing implementing legislation for trade agreements to be considered under expedited legislative procedures, provided certain statutory requirements are met.
  • Reauthorized Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).
  • Reauthorized Export-Import Bank (ExIm Bank).
  • Reauthorized U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • Authorized U.S. participation in quota and governance reforms at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
  • Maintained economic sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Russia, and other countries.
  • Source:  CRS: International Trade and Finance Issues for the 115th Congress

[Back to Top of Page]

Current Trade Statistics

[Back to Top of Page]

Federal Agencies with International Trade Responsibilities

Link to  Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Link to USTR Fact Sheets

Link to  U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA)

  • USTDA is an independent federal agency that helps companies create U.S. jobs through the export of U.S. goods and services for priority development projects in emerging economies. 
  • Mission is to promote U.S. exports to advance economic growth in developing and middle-income countries.
  • Because of the flexibility of USTDA’s program, its partners are able to obtain financing from a variety of sources: U.S. government finance institutions, commercial banks, private equity funds, multilateral institutions and local development banks, among others.
  • The Agency connects foreign project sponsors with U.S. manufacturers and service providers in order to open new export markets and identify commercial opportunities for U.S. companies through reverse trade missions, conferences, and workshops.  Reverse trade missions bring foreign decision-makers to the United States to observe the design, manufacture and operation of U.S. products and services that can help them achieve their development goals. Worldwide conferences and workshops are sector- and project-specific events designed to showcase U.S. goods and services to foreign decision-makers.
  • USTDA is unique among federal agencies in that it is mandated to engage the U.S. private sector in development projects at the critical early stages when the projects’ technology options and requirements are being defined.  By highlighting opportunities for the use of U.S. expertise and technology when they can effectively be incorporated into project preparation, the Agency increases opportunities for the use of U.S. exports in project implementation.
  • USTDA provides grants directly to overseas sponsors who, in turn, select U.S. companies to perform Agency-funded project preparation activities. An overseas sponsor is a local entity, public or private, with the decision-making authority and ability to implement a project. Key project preparation activities include:
    • Feasibility Studies and Pilot Projects
    • Technical assistance
    • Training Programs

Link to  USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) 

  • Trade PolicyFAS expands and maintains access to foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products by removing trade barriers and enforcing U.S. rights under existing trade agreements. 
  • Market Development and Export Assistance:  FAS partners with 75 cooperator groups representing a cross-section of the U.S. food and agricultural industry and manages a toolkit of market development programs to help U.S. exporters develop and maintain markets for hundreds of products. FAS also supports U.S. agricultural exporters through export credit guarantee programs and other types of assistance.
  • Data and Analysis: FAS analysts provide objective intelligence on foreign market conditions, prepare production forecasts, assess export opportunities, and track changes in policies affecting U.S. agricul­tural exports and imports.
  • Food SecurityFAS leads USDA’s efforts to help developing countries improve their agricultural systems and build their trade capacity. FAS also partners with the U.S. Agency for International Development to administer U.S. food aid programs, helping people in need around the world. FAS’s non-emergency food aid programs help meet recipients’ nutritional needs and also support agricultural development and education.

Link to  Export-Import Bank (EXIM)

  • The Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) is an independent, self-sustaining Executive Branch agency with a mission of supporting American jobs by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services.
  • When private sector lenders are unable or unwilling to provide financing, EXIM fills in the gap for American businesses by equipping them with the financing tools necessary to compete for global sales. In doing so, the Bank levels the playing field for U.S. goods and services going up against foreign competition in overseas markets, so that American companies can create more good-paying American jobs.
  • Because it is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, EXIM assumes credit and country risks that the private sector is unable or unwilling to accept.
  • The Bank’s charter requires that all transactions it authorizes demonstrate a reasonable assurance of repayment; the Bank consistently maintains a low default rate, and closely monitors credit and other risks in its portfolio.

Link to  Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)

  • The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a self-sustaining U.S. Government agency that helps American businesses invest in emerging markets.
  • Established in 1971, OPIC provides businesses with the tools to manage the risks associated with foreign direct investment, fosters economic development in emerging market countries, and advances U.S. foreign policy and national security priorities.
  • OPIC fulfills its mission by providing businesses with financing, political risk insurance, advocacy and by partnering with private equity investment fund managers.
  • Link to Active OPIC projects.

Link to  Small Business Administration Office of International Trade (OIT)

  • The Office of International Trade’s mission is to enhance the ability of small businesses to compete in the global marketplace.

Link to  Commerce Dept. International Trade Administration (ITA)

  • ITA, located in the U.S. Department of Commerce, is organized into three distinct business units under the direction of the Commerce Under Secretary for International Trade (organizational chart):
    • The Global Markets unit, under the direction of the Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, combines ITA’s country and regional experts, overseas and domestic field staff, and specific trade promotion programs to provide U.S. firms with the full suite of country-specific export promotion services and market access advocacy, while promoting the United States as an investment destination.
    • The Industry and Analysis (I&A) unit, under the direction of the Assistant Secretary for Industry and Analysis, brings together ITA’s industry, trade, and economic experts to advance the competitiveness of U.S. industries through the development and execution of international trade and investment policies and promotion strategies. I&A leverages ITA’s relationships with manufacturing and services industries to increase U.S. exports.
    • The Enforcement and Compliance unit, under the direction of the Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance, enhances ITA’s responsibilities to enforce U.S. trade laws and ensure compliance with trade agreements negotiated on behalf of U.S. industry.

Link to  Treasury Dept. Office of International Affairs (OIA)

  • The Treasury Department works to promote open trade and investment policies internationally and for the United States through the Office of Trade Finance and Investment Negotiations and the Office of International Trade.  Areas of work include:
    • participation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a 35-member organization of many of the world’s most advanced market economies (but also emerging countries like Mexico, Chile and Turkey) aimed at collecting and analyzing information on a broad range of topics to help governments foster prosperity and fight poverty through economic growth and financial stability;
    • participation in the International Working Group on Export Credits (IWG) created by the U.S. and China in 2012 to negotiate new global guidelines on export financing subsidies;
    • negotiation of trade and investment agreements; and
    • participation in the World Trade Organization, which operates a global system of trade rules, acts as a forum for negotiating trade agreements, settles trade disputes between its members, and supports the needs of developing countries.

Link to  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Link to  Commerce Dept. Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)

  • The BIS mission is to advance U.S. national security, foreign policy, and economic objectives by ensuring an effective export control and treaty compliance system and promoting continued U.S. strategic technology leadership.

Link to  State Department Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC)

  • The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, in accordance with the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations is charged with controlling the export and temporary import of defense articles and defense services covered by the United States Munitions List (USML).

Link to  U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC)

  • Commission makes determinations in proceedings involving imports claimed to injure a domestic industry or violate U.S. intellectual property rights;
  • Provides independent tariff, trade and competitiveness-related analysis and in­formation; and
  • Maintains the U.S. tariff schedule.

Link to U.S. Court of International Trade

  • The United States Court of International Trade, previously the U.S. Customs Court, has nationwide jurisdiction over civil actions arising out of the customs and international trade laws of the United States.

Link to  Labor Department: Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)

  • Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers (TAA) — a federal program administered jointly by the Dept. of Labor Employment and Training Administration and state agencies — provides federal assistance to workers who have involuntarily lost their jobs due to foreign competition. It was last reauthorized by the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reauthorization Act of 2015.
  • To establish eligibility for TAA benefits, a group of trade-affected workers (or their representative) must petition the Department of Labor (DOL) and a DOL investigation must verify the role of foreign trade in the workers’ job losses. Once a petition is certified by DOL, covered workers may apply for individual benefits. Individual benefits are funded by the federal government and administered by state agencies through their workforce systems and unemployment insurance systems.
  • Benefits available to individual workers include:
    • Training and reemployment services;
    • a Trade Readjustment Allowance weekly income support payment for TAA-certified workers who have exhausted their unemployment compensation (UC) and who are enrolled in an eligible training program;
    • Wage insurance which provides a cash payment equal to 50% of the difference between the worker’s new wage and previous wage, up to a two-year maximum of $10,000; and
    • a Health Coverage Tax Credit equal to 72.5% of qualified health insurance premiums.
  • Appropriations for the program in FY2016 were $861 million.
  • Background:  CRS: Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers

Link to  U.S. Census Bureau:  International Trade Data

More Background on Trade Agencies:   

[Back to Top of Page]

Nonpartisan Reports on Trade

[Back to Top of Page]