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Press Release Published: Mar 4, 2024

Comer Probes USTR’s Lack of Transparency, Secretive Communications

WASHINGTON—House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is today investigating the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) secretive communications with ideologically aligned groups and lack of commitment to a comprehensive consultation process for decisions to abandon longstanding, bipartisan positions on digital trade. The lack of transparency has led USTR to make decisions which put the best interest of U.S. competitiveness, innovation, jobs, and global internet freedom at risk.

“On November 30, 2023, a bipartisan group of 32 U.S. Senators led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) wrote to express profound concern about the lack of adequate consultation process by USTR with other federal agencies, the public, and Congress in USTR reaching a decision to abandon ‘longstanding and bipartisan positions’ on digital trade during a meeting of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on e-commerce,” Chairman Comer wrote.

In the November 2023, the Senators expressed concern that USTR abandoned negotiations on a series of digital trade provisions which have had bipartisan support. In a letter previously in May 2022, a bipartisan group of Senators also wrote USTR expressing concern over failure of transparency and consultation with Members of Congress after the United States entered a compromise involving intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines.

“Over the same period of time in 2023, new documents brought forward through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request shed light on robust and sometimes clandestine engagement efforts made by USTR officials through their cozy relationships with former colleagues who work as ideological advocates outside of government. Some of these individuals are associated with efforts to advance the interests of favored businesses over competitors and consumer welfare. Disturbingly, the pattern of these shady engagements suggest they influenced your controversial decision to abandon longstanding U.S. commitments in promoting digital freedom and U.S. competitiveness in digital markets,” Chairman Comer continued.

Read the letter to United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Katherine Tai here.