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Press Release Published: Mar 27, 2024

Comer Requests NGOs to Preserve Docs Related to USTR Decision to Abandon U.S. Digital Trade Commitments

WASHINGTON—House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is today furthering an investigation into United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) lack of commitment to a comprehensive consultation process which resulted in its decision to abandon longstanding, bipartisan positions on digital trade. In a letter to top officials at five NGO entities, Chairman Comer requests the NGOs preserve documents related to the committee’s inquiry for potential future requests.

“After USTR announced its decision to abandon longstanding and bipartisan positions on digital trade during an October 2023 meeting of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on e-commerce, 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) expressed profound concern about the lack of an adequate consultation process. The record gathered from stakeholders, members of Congress, and their staff since this correspondence indicates how USTR eschewed an opportunity to conduct a fulsome and transparent public discussion on its proposed actions and instead relied upon a secretive and closed process that emphasized inputs from ideological allies,” Chairman Comer wrote.

Chairman Comer wrote a letter to USTR Ambassador Katherine Tai on March 4, 2024, conducting oversight of USTR’s lack of transparency on pending trade negotiations. In the letter, Chairman Comer notes documents brought forward through a FOIA request highlight a pattern of USTR officials engaging with officials who work as ideological advocates and raises concern that these interactions may have influenced USTR’s decision to abandon U.S. commitments to promoting digital freedom and U.S. competitiveness in digital markets.

“Documents brought forward through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that USTR officials repeatedly engaged with individuals associated with non-government organizations (NGO), including the one you lead, about preferred outcomes on digital trade. These interactions even involved USTR employees who had past employment ties to NGOs seeking special access and, at times, indicated the existence of clandestine communication efforts,” Chairman Comer continued.

READ MORE: Comer Probes USTR’s Lack of Transparency, Secretive Communications

Read the letters here: