Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

United States: July 1999

“ This openness and its recent impressive economic performance have meant that the United States has played a pivotal role in supporting the world economy in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.”

24 July 1999


We have had serious, positive and open discussions. Members of the TPRB are clearly impressed by the United States' recent outstanding economic performance which is reflected, inter alia, in strong growth, low unemployment and low inflation. No doubt, this performance is partly due to the considerable trade and investment liberalization achieved by the Uruguay Round and WTO Agreements.

Members acknowledged that the U.S. economy is among the most open and transparent in the world. This openness and its recent impressive economic performance have meant that the United States has played a pivotal role in supporting the world economy in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. At the same time, imports, often at lower prices, have served as an important safety valve for the U.S. economy, helping to meet domestic demand and subdue inflationary pressures that might otherwise have emerged. Further, foreign investment has enabled the U.S. economy to grow faster than would have been the case had it relied solely on domestic saving.

Members acknowledged that while the resulting large and widening U.S. current account deficit, and difficulties faced by some sectors (notably steel and agriculture), have led to certain protectionist pressure, hitherto the Administration has, by and large, resisted these pressures, to the benefit of the multilateral trading system.

Nonetheless, one senses that Members are worried that if the U.S. economy slows substantially, and unemployment starts to edge up, it may become more difficult for the Administration to resist domestic protectionist pressures. Moreover, given that the United States is the world's single largest trader and the importance that Members attach to its leadership role on multilateral issues, delegations asked clarification or voiced concerns about a number of features of the U.S. trade and investment regime and recent developments therein, particularly those of a unilateral or extra-territorial nature. Among these features were:

- the impact of regional initiatives on the WTO-based multilateral system;

- the existence of tariff "peaks", often embodied in specific rates, and tariff escalation;

- some recent high profile anti-dumping (notably in steel), countervailing and safeguard (inter alia, lamb) actions;

- conditions attached to the GSP;

- import protection and the export enhancement programme for agriculture;

- rules of origin, especially with respect to textiles and clothing;

- speed and scope of implementation of commitments pertaining to the ATC;

- measures, notably 301 and related actions, aimed, inter alia, at securing market access abroad for U.S. exporters;

- actions by the U.S. in matters that have not fully worked their way through WTO disputes settlement procedures;

- extra-territorial application of U.S. and sub-federal laws (including those pertaining to labour, health, sanitary and environmental standards);

- state-federal relations relating to U.S. WTO commitments;

- protection of U.S. shipbuilders and providers of shipping services;

- government procurement, in particular the Buy American Act.

- harmonization of U.S. intellectual property rights with international practice.

Clarification has been brought to these issues and we look forward to written replies on outstanding matters.

The U.S. commitment to the full implementation, and compliance with, WTO rules and principles has to be noted. Although the above matters may appear to be relatively insignificant for an economy as large as the United States, some can have extremely serious repercussions for U.S. trading partners, especially smaller less-developed economies.

Looking to the future, Members expressed some worry over the Administration's difficulty, for the time being, in securing "fast-track" authority, which many Members perceived as a reflection of a certain erosion of support within the United States for trade liberalization. While noting the endeavours of the U.S. Administration to build overall (domestic, institutional and international) support for a meaningful, transparent trade agenda, with the next Ministerial being hosted by the United States in Seattle later this year, Members look to the United States to demonstrate its traditional leadership role in undertaking future multilateral trade negotiations. Back to top