fb tracking

Annual USTR Report Another Step Toward Biden’s Worker-Centered Trade Approach 

 Nuanced NTE Report Acknowledges Countries’ Sovereignty, Right to Regulate Big Tech

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Trade Representative’s National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE report) has just been released. The report’s forward is changed from previous years and explicitly acknowledges countries’ sovereign right to adopt measures in furtherance of legitimate public purposes. Upon a preliminary review of the new report, Global Trade Watch Director Melinda St. Louis issued the following statement: 

“At first glance, we are pleased to see that this year’s NTE is no longer simply a hit list of laws and regulations that large corporations dislike and is now a more nuanced report recognizing that many policies that serve legitimate public purposes should not automatically be dubbed as ‘barriers to trade.‘ This is particularly apparent in the context of ‘digital trade’ barriers, many of which are actually privacy, anti-discrimination, and anti-monopoly safeguards. 

“This is consistent with this administration’s stated “worker-centered” approach to trade, that does not privilege large corporate interests over all else, but recognizes that trade policy should complement, rather than undermine, public interest goals.

“Big Tech lobbyists are sure to react with hyperbolic alarm, as they are accustomed to dictating to USTR their long list of gripes with other countries’ laws, and having those grievances regurgitated in the NTE report without balancing the concerns of workers, consumers, and the public in the U.S. and around the globe.

“As governments around the world, including our own, work to regulate the rapidly changing tech space, it does not make sense to list these new regulations as ‘barriers to trade.’ That’s why it’s good news that this report targets fewer digital policies than in past years. Still, there are 22 jurisdictions with sections on ‘digital barriers to trade’ (compared to 28 in Trump’s 2020 NTE) – revealing the lie behind Big Tech’s claim that USTR has dropped their interests entirely. 

Word Related to Digital Trade Number of Appearances in Trump’s 2020 NTE Number of Appearances in Biden’s 2024 NTE
digital 159 96
platform 76 44
cross-border data flow 5 3
data localization 32 10
digital products 8 0
digital service 27 19
digital services tax 15 14

We hope this is the beginning of a new day for the NTE, which has been used in the past as a cudgel for large U.S. corporate interests, attacking health, consumer, environmental and other policies. We and civil society allies around the globe will read closely to see if many of these important laws that have been unfairly targeted in past NTEs are now removed.

But let’s be clear about the topline story: For too long, USTR has effectively transcribed the demands that Big Tech and other giant corporations make in opposition to other nations’ consumer and worker rules. Now, for the first time in memory, USTR is recognizing that it is not in the U.S. national interest to attack and threaten other nations’ consumer and worker protection measures. That is a change to be applauded and celebrated.