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Press Release Published: May 2, 2024

Comer Requests Transcribed Interview with USTR Official Over Abandoned Digital Trade Commitments

WASHINGTON—House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is today continuing oversight of the consultations by the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) leading to its decision to abandon longstanding, bipartisan positions on digital trade. In a letter to USTR in March 2024, Chairman Comer requested documents and communications related to the decision by USTR to stop supporting key commitments protecting U.S. workers and global Internet freedom. After USTR provided an inadequate response and failed to provide requested documents to address Committee concerns, Chairman Comer is now requesting USTR make the Director for ICT Services and Digital Trade available for a transcribed interview.

“As we wrote previously, the Committee is concerned about how USTR conducted itself as a handful of ideologically aligned organizations influenced the agency’s 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. In its April 18 response, USTR neglected to address concerns articulated by the Committee, pointing instead to the agency’s consultation process and transparency principles,” Chairman Comer wrote.

In March 2024, Chairman Comer also requested five NGO entities to preserve documents related to the Committee’s inquiry into USTR’s secretive interactions over a more comprehensive consultation process. Documents brought forward through a FOIA request highlight a pattern of USTR officials clandestinely engaging with entities who work as ideological advocates and raising concern about a lack of transparency surrounding USTR’s decision to abandon U.S. commitments to promoting digital freedom and U.S. competitiveness in digital markets.

“While the Committee is aware USTR consults with outside stakeholders, records produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal USTR employees appeared to provide certain favored interest groups with special treatment, including through a clandestine communications channel that suggest an intentional and possibly illegal effort to avoid requirements of the Federal Records Act,” Chairman Comer continued.

Read the letter to USTR Ambassador Katherine Tai here.

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

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