Federal agencies could improve how they enforce trade laws—especially laws that combat unfair trade practices and stop the flow of illicit goods.
Federal agencies help pursue enforcement actions when foreign entities violate U.S. trade laws and regulations that can harm the U.S. economy or disadvantage U.S. industry. For example, federal agencies take actions against unfairly traded, illicit, and counterfeit goods. However, agencies could improve how they pursue such activities.
- Customs enforcement. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforces the customs and trade laws that protect the nation’s economy and the health and safety of the American people. CBP conducts its trade enforcement activities using a risk-based approach—that is, it focuses on higher risk imports while expediting lower risk ones. However, the agency needs to develop performance targets for measuring the effectiveness of its activities. CBP also needs to better articulate how it plans to address its persistent staffing shortfalls in key positions.
CBP's Role in Inspecting Imports
- Antidumping and countervailing (AD/CV) duties. U.S. law authorizes the assessment of antidumping duties on products exported to the United States at unfairly low prices, as well as countervailing duties on products exported to the United States that are subsidized by foreign governments. However, CBP and the Department of Commerce (Commerce) could strengthen their efforts related to AD/CV duty rate-setting and the collection of unpaid duties. For example, CBP has developed risk-based models to identify importers with greater risk for not paying AD/CV duties and assess the bond requirement for these importers. However, CBP still needs to implement the framework, including the use of risk-based bonds.
- Forced labor. Forced labor is a global problem in which millions of adults and children are exploited to perform labor or services. In addition to raising urgent humanitarian concerns, forced labor overseas undermines legitimate trade and competition. CBP is responsible for enforcing the U.S. prohibition on the importation of goods made with forced labor. However, CBP needs to assess its workforce needs and improve its summary data for managing its forced labor cases. Additionally, the U.S. government has raised concerns about the use of forced labor in a number of industries, including seafood. CBP has taken some steps to prevent the importation of seafood produced with forced labor, but better communication with stakeholders could strengthen these enforcement efforts.
- Intellectual property rights. Infringement of intellectual property rights through the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit goods harms the U.S. economy and can threaten the health and safety of consumers. CBP leads efforts to stop imported counterfeit goods at the border. However, the agency needs to do more to evaluate the results of its activities.
Examples of Counterfeit Products GAO Purchased Online
- Conflict minerals. Armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring countries continue to commit severe human rights abuses and to profit from the mining and trading of "conflict minerals.” These minerals include gold and specific ores for tantalum, tin, and tungsten. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required federal agencies to take certain actions to address the trade in conflict minerals. Among other things, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a rule requiring that companies annually report on the use of conflict minerals in their products. In 2020, 42% of companies initially determined that their conflict minerals may have come from the DRC or adjoining countries. However, 44% of companies that investigated further were unable to make a final determination on the origins of their conflict minerals. The State Department, in consultation with the U.S. Agency for International Development, has developed a conflict minerals strategy—but these agencies need to develop performance indicators to assess progress.