International Trade:

Improvements Needed to Track and Archive Trade Agreements

NSIAD-00-24: Published: Dec 14, 1999. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 1999.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Susan S. Westin
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on improvements needed to track and archive trade agreements, focusing on: (1) the number of trade agreements the United States is party to; (2) the way in which the executive branch notifies Congress when trade agreements are entered into; and (3) the extent to which the public has ready access to information from government sources about trade agreements.

GAO noted that: (1) the number of trade agreements to which the United States is a party is uncertain; (2) officials at key agencies were unable to provide a definitive count of all U.S. trade agreements that are in force, despite the fact that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Department of State, and the Department of Commerce have created separate archives containing many agreements; (3) GAO identified 441 different trade agreements that entered into force from 1984 through 1998 among the three archives, but were not able to determine the total number of U.S. trade agreements in force; (4) this is because: (a) agency archives serve different purposes; (b) a governmentwide definition of what constitutes a trade agreement does not exist; and (c) there are recordkeeping weaknesses and inconsistencies in the archives; (5) the most comprehensive of these archives, was intended to include all agreements but contains only about two thirds of the total number of agreements that GAO identified by examining all three sources; (6) Commerce's archive is incomplete because federal agencies have not worked together to establish criteria for identifying agreements to be included, and no interagency procedure has been instituted for forwarding such trade agreements to Commerce; (7) Congress is notified when trade agreements are entered into through two formal mechanisms; (8) USTR's annual report, distributed to each member of Congress, includes a list of substantive trade agreements that it has negotiated since 1984 and that afford increased foreign market access to the United States; (9) other agreements negotiated by USTR, such as those that only regulate imports into the United States, are not included; (10) as required by law, State sends Congress a copy of any agreement that State determines is an international agreement based on certain criteria that State defines and applies; (11) other federal agencies are required to forward to State those agreements they negotiate, including trade agreements, that might fall within the criteria that State has established; (12) USTR recently established new procedures to improve its transmittal of new agreements to State for review; and (13) although federal agencies have provided the public with greater access to information about trade agreements in recent years, government sources available to the public are not always complete and accurate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, USTR helped develop and implement a series of procedures to improve record keeping within the Executive Branch for trade agreements.

    Recommendation: To comply with the statutory requirement that Congress receive copies of all agreements that qualify as international agreements, USTR should transmit to State's Office of Treaty Affairs the text of each substantive trade agreement that it has negotiated that is in force and that does not appear in the Department of State's record of in-force international agreements.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USTR reconciled its list of trade agreements with Commerce's list, helped clarify that agriculture agreements be maintained on USDA's web site, periodically reviews the list for scope and coverage on behalf of Trade Policy Staff Committee participants, and directs these participants to submit appropriate trade agreements to Commerce and USDA.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Trade Representative, as chair of the Trade Policy Staff Committee, should ask the group to consider how its member agencies can assist Commerce's efforts to obtain accurate and timely information on trade agreements concluded by those agencies.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce has modified its web site to include a description of the criteria used to include trade agreements in its database.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the accuracy and completeness of its trade agreement archive, the Secretary of Commerce should describe at its Internet site the criteria used in determining which agreements are included in the archive and procedures by which users can obtain authenticated copies of the agreements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce took action to address this recommendation with the Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the accuracy and completeness of its trade agreement archive, the Secretary of Commerce should develop procedures, in consultation with other federal agencies that negotiate trade agreements, to ensure that these agencies regularly forward trade agreements to Commerce.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce has developed clear criteria for inclusion of trade agreements in its database.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the accuracy and completeness of its trade agreement archive, the Secretary of Commerce should establish, in consultation with USTR, State, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other appropriate federal agencies, clear criteria for the types of agreements to be included.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce clarified its criteria for including trade agreements in its database, and has applied that criteria. However, Commerce decided that the database would not include agreements involving agriculture or trade and investment framework agreements.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the accuracy and completeness of its trade agreement archive, the Secretary of Commerce should clarify that the archive is intended to contain all trade agreements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State has not implemented this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the Office of Treaty Affairs to review each of these agreements to determine whether the agreement is an international agreement under State's criteria and, if so, notify Congress of such agreements no later than 60 days after receiving them.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 27, 2016

Sep 22, 2016

Sep 20, 2016

Sep 7, 2016

Aug 31, 2016

Aug 25, 2016

Aug 15, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here