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1.1 Formulation and Execution of US Trade Policy

The US trade regime consists of a complex web of diverse regulatory and policy objectives. These goals are often inter-related and mutually reinforcing. Trade objectives must also co-exist with US foreign and domestic policy goals that address multiple political, economic, security and social considerations. These multi-layered objectives often require US legislators and Administration officials to balance conflicting goals, especially in the areas of international trade and homeland security.

For example, US export policy works toward opening markets throughout the world to create new opportunities and higher living standards for families, farmers, manufacturers, workers, consumers and businesses. The Office of the US Trade Representative is responsible for developing and co-ordinating US international trade, commodity and direct investment policy, and overseeing negotiations with other countries. At the same time, however, the US Department of Commerce is responsible for managing a comprehensive export-control system that restricts the exportation of sensitive items, including military goods and technology and high-technology civilian goods that may be used for military means (i.e., dual-use technology).

US import policy is also characterised by a balancing act between trade and security concerns. In essence, the US government seeks to facilitate and expedite the inward flow of international goods and services while maintaining national security and ensuring that all pertinent laws and regulations are being observed. The US government is also tasked with ensuring that domestic industries and jobs are safeguarded against unfair trade practices, such as unfairly priced imports, illegally subsidised imports, or surging imports. Additionally, the US administers a range of uni-lateral, bi-lateral, regional and multi-lateral preferential trade arrangements; enforces a number of trade restrictions and restraints; and undertakes various other trade-related functions.

The first three articles of the US Constitution provide for a system of governance based on the separation of powers among three branches: the legislative (Congress); the executive (the Administration); and the judicial (the courts). While these branches interact closely with one another, each has separate functions and acts independently. 

All three branches of government play a role in the formulation and execution of US trade policy. Ultimately, however, it is the US Congress that holds chief authority over trade matters. For most of US history, this responsibility largely meant setting tariffs on imports. In today’s increasingly globalised world, however, congressional oversight of trade covers a broad range of issues – labour and the environment, government procurement, cargo security, international exchange rates and a host of others.

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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