Negotiations over the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) underscore the Congressional role in trade agreements, which could broaden the scope of activities covered under trade deals (and demand for different types of trade data to ensure compliance). For example, improved labor conditions in Mexico are a priority for Democrats in Congress. If USMCA is ratified, it will set the tone for future trade negotiations that high labor standards in developing countries are a condition for preferential access to the US market. The USMCA requires the three nations to adhere to international standards of labor protections and is expected to include enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all three countries continue to be in compliance.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Increased automation at the border has made trade data more visible to traders as well as governments. As a result, trade audits and sampling methods are improving. CBP expects to continue to experiment with advancing digital technologies, after a pilot test of blockchain to verify certificates of origin on imported goods. The US in 2016 laid the groundwork for stronger inter-agency collaboration. With the help of US Customs Centers of Excellence and Expertise (CCEEs), CBP is now able to hone in on issues, in addition to efficient trade compliance, that affect industries, not just companies. CPB also enforces US trade laws and regulations on behalf of other federal agencies, with their own sets of standards for products entering the US.
US-Japan trade pact
Bilateral agreements like the one struck between the US and Japan demonstrate a more limited ambition by the US, which has under the Trump administration rejected multilateral agreements requiring concessions by the US. The deal has a limited scope, setting a standard for some exports, such as lower tariffs on some agricultural products, and digital provisions that aim to ease cross border data flows. It also leaves scope for future negotiations, such as over auto imports to the US or increased market access into Japan.
US Trade Representative (USTR)
This small agency directs White House trade negotiations, and coordinates trade matters with other federal agencies. Its role in reviewing requests for tariff relief from US importers has put the USTR web portal at the center of many importer trade strategies. Over 10,000 requests for exclusions from the first two tranches of additional tariffs on imports from China were submitted. One analysis found that only around one in four were approved for exemptions. The USTR reviews the requests, and has the authority to approve or deny the requests.
Labor rights and sustainability
The May 10th Agreement authored by House Democrats has set the trend to broaden trade agreements to include developed-country standards on labor and environment. The USMCA is likely to be the first and largest multilateral agreement ratified that fully reflects this new world, and it will have implications for all future US trade agreements. Separately, as part of a focus on sustainability, private entities are now acting where they see government failures, as in the Paris coalition.