A number of federal agencies help enforce laws to combat unfair trade practices, stop the flow of illicit goods, encourage U.S. exports, and promote fair trade. However, agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Commerce (Commerce), and others need to do more to effectively carry out these activities.
Federal agencies help pursue enforcement actions when foreign entities violate U.S. trade laws and regulations which can harm the U.S. economy and disadvantage U.S. industry. Some agencies police the flows of both legitimate and illicit goods entering the United States, while others help promote U.S. exports abroad.
Some ways to improve federal efforts to pursue these activities include:
- Trade enforcement. 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, it 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 trade positions.
CBP's Role in Inspecting Imports
- Antidumping and countervailing 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. While CBP has worked to enhance its collection of unpaid duty bills, it needs to improve its analysis of customs data to identify key factors associated with nonpayment and take action to reduce lost revenue.
- Intellectual property rights. Infringement of intellectual property rights (IPR) through the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit goods harms the U.S. economy and can threaten the health and safety of consumers. U.S. agencies have undertaken various activities to enhance IPR enforcement, but CBP needs to do more to evaluate the results of its activities and explore what, if any, additional information would be beneficial to share with the private sector.
Examples of Counterfeit Products GAO Purchased Online
- Labor and environmental commitments. Eleven different offices and bureaus of U.S. agencies are involved in monitoring and enforcing different aspects of international trade agreements, including provisions on labor rights and environmental protections. Although agencies have taken steps to improve their monitoring of the extent to which partner countries are complying with these provisions, they could do more—for instance, by establishing timeframes and performance indicators for enhanced monitoring.
- Wildlife trafficking. The illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth $7 billion to $23 billion annually—and it is pushing some protected and endangered animal species to the brink of extinction. U.S. agencies are working to reduce demand for illegal wildlife, such as by building law enforcement capacity to deal with these types of crimes and raising public awareness. Further, in response to GAO’s work, agencies took steps such as establishing a wildlife-focused interagency working group to more clearly define their roles and responsibilities and enhance collaboration.
Wildlife Products Seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Miami
- Conflict minerals. Federal agencies are taking actions to implement conflict minerals provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This act defines conflict minerals as gold as well as columbite-tantalite (coltan), cassiterite, wolframite, the ores from which tantalum, tin, and tungsten, respectively, are processed. The definition of conflict minerals also includes any other mineral or its derivatives that are determined by the Secretary of State to be financing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or an adjoining country. While Commerce has produced lists of facilities worldwide where these conflict minerals are processed, it needs to better assess the accuracy of audits and other due diligence processes used by companies that submit reports on their use of conflict minerals—as these companies are required to do by the Securities and Exchange Commission conflict minerals disclosure rule.
- Export promotion. An interagency group led by Commerce coordinates various programs to promote and finance U.S. exports. However, this group does not report on how federal export promotion resources align with government-wide priorities, as it is required to do. This means that federal decision makers lack a clear understanding of the total resources that the United States has dedicated to, for example, increasing exports by small- and medium-sized businesses.