The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative furloughed about 70 percent of its employees this week under a contingency plan for a lapse in congressionally-approved funding. However, the agency said those personnel who remain “will ensure USTR continues to conduct operations, including trade negotiations and enforcement.”

USTR has announced plans to launch negotiations on trade agreements with the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Talks with the EU and Japan could begin within weeks, although in both cases that appears unlikely. The U.S. is waiting until after the UK leaves the EU, which is currently scheduled to occur March 29, before moving forward with those talks. USTR has released its negotiating objectives with respect to the EU and Japan and is developing goals for the UK talks after accepting public input through Jan. 15.

USTR is also expected to hold another round of talks with China in Washington in late January. The two sides met Jan. 7-9 in Beijing but official readouts from that meeting offered little indication of any agreements. The U.S. has said that if China does not make sufficient progress on resolving longstanding trade irritants by March 2 it will increase the Section 301 additional tariff on $200 billion worth of goods from China from 10 percent to 25 percent.

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