Three weeks after the partial federal government shutdown began and shuttered most of the trade-related government agencies in Washington, D.C. (see Trump and Trade Update dated December 26, 2018), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) – which had remained fully operational – has indicated that it will begin to furlough staff on January 14, 2019. According to an Office of Management and Budget contingency plan, USTR is normally staffed by 265 personnel, but will be reduced to a staff of 79 until funding for fiscal year 2019 is provided.
While certain key staff and political appointees will continue to work, it is anticipated that staff reviewing exclusion requests for imported products from China subject to the Section 301 retaliatory tariffs will be furloughed and that the processing of these requests will cease until funding is restored. USTR Robert Lighthizer, however, is expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland later this month, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. On January 10, 2019, President Trump announced that he would not attend this annual event pending the outcome of the border wall funding dispute.