International Trade Policy

Free Trade Agreement Partners and the US Trade Balance, 2006. Bar graph.

Text description of this graph.

Trade is the process of exchanging products and services through market operations. As a major developed nation, the U.S. relies heavily on trade and trade significantly impacts the American economy and industry. Trade is also a powerful anti-poverty tool, spurring economic growth and increasing opportunity. The US develops global, regional and bilateral trade policies. Trade arrangements used by the US government include free trade agreements, trade and investment framework agreements, bilateral investment treaties, bilateral market access agreements, and the extension of duty-free treatment to certain goods of developing countries under the Generalized System of Preferences and other trade preference programs. Other trade policy tools available to the government include economic sanctions and export controls of goods, services and technologies relevant to the national security. Trade policies must account for both economic and political objectives. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. At the same time, it is the President that has the sole power to conduct the foreign affairs of the United States. Given these respective powers, the Legislative and Executive branches necessarily must work together to develop, implement, execute, and assess international trade policy. Within the Executive Branch, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has primary responsibility for developing, and for coordinating the implementation of, United States international trade policy, including commodity matters and, to the extent they are related to trade policy, direct investment matters. USTR works closely with other departments and agencies to coordinate trade policy, resolve disagreements, and frame issues for presidential decision. Other agencies are responsible for other aspects of U.S. trade policy, such as administering sanctions and export control regimes.

Dozens of government agencies, commissions and international organizations play a role in some aspect of international trade. View list of trade-related organizations. To gain the most impact in any functional trade area requires effective coordination of objectives, policies, plans, and activities. Departments and agencies must coordinate with each other (and Congress) to:

  • Negotiate trade agreements
  • Provide information, assistance and financial support for U.S. exporters
  • Develop markets for US products
  • Promote US business interests overseas and US trade interests within international organizations
  • Collect and analyze detailed trade-related economic data
  • Enforce U.S. laws and U.S. rights under international trade agreements
  • Assist foreign nations to participate effectively in a global, rules-based trading system
  • Administer and enforce trade sanctions
  • Regulate imports, monitor import safety, and assist importers
  • Oversee tariffs schedules
  • Control sensitive exports
  • Protect US trademarks, intellectual property, and trade secrets; prosecute violators
  • Review civil actions arising out of import transactions and federal statutes affecting international trade