The annual National Trade Estimate report issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is noticeable smaller this year, reflecting what the agency said is an effort to “return [the report] to its stated statutory purpose.” The change has elicited opposition from businesses and trade organizations along with support from public interest groups.

For more information on how your company can respond to U.S. and foreign trade barriers, please contact Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956 or via email.

The NTE report describes “significant foreign trade barriers” to U.S. exports, U.S. foreign direct investment, and U.S. e-commerce in 59 markets, down from 64 in 2023. USTR states that examples of these barriers include the following.

- lack of uniformity across European Union member states in areas like customs, labeling, agricultural biotechnology, packaging and packing waste, government procurement, investment, and intellectual property protection and enforcement

- industrial policies in China that seek to disadvantage foreign competitors in sectors such as steel, aluminum, solar, advanced manufacturing, and high technology

- barriers affecting U.S. agricultural exports, including (1) Indonesia’s facility registration requirements for dairy, meat, and rendered products, (2) China’s requirements across a wide range of goods and agricultural products, (3) India’s and Turkey’s procedures and requirements for agricultural biotechnology approvals, and (4) the EU’s non-science-based policies affecting crop protection technologies

- failure to recognize U.S. motor vehicle safety standards by countries like Colombia, Egypt, Laos, Morocco, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan

- data localization policies in countries like China and Russia that can be used by governments to surveil populations, interfere with labor rights, and otherwise compromise civil and political liberties

It is notable that this year’s report is substantially shorter than in previous years. USTR Katherine Tai explained that over time the NTE report had “expanded from its statutory purpose to include measures without regard to whether they may be valid exercises of sovereign policy authority” that advance what the report calls “legitimate public purposes.” Going forward, press sources quoted an unnamed USTR spokesperson as saying, “the threshold for inclusion in the NTE [will be] whether an issue is an effort to regulate in the public interest, and if not, whether that issue is a significant trade barrier.” USTR added that “the facts surrounding a measure will be important” in conducting such evaluations.

There is concern among businesses that the omission of some barriers catalogued in previous reports signals an intention by the White House to scale back its ambition in removing those barriers, and indeed the report itself states that its purpose is to “identify barriers the U.S. government seeks to remove.” According to press sources, there is particular concern that this year’s report reduces significantly the number of listed barriers to digital trade and e-commerce at a time when those types of barriers are increasing. On the other hand, a group of public interest groups told Tai in a March 28 letter that they support the agency’s “work to make U.S. trade policy consistent with the Biden administration’s competition and other pro-worker and pro-consumer goals and policies.”

While the NTE report states that compiling an annual list of trade barriers facilitates U.S. negotiations aimed at reducing or eliminating these barriers, it does not indicate what steps USTR might take in response. However, USTR’s annual trade agenda offers more insight into the agency’s priorities for trade barriers and other issues in 2024.

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