Yesterday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) officially notified Congress that it would be launching separate trade discussions with the European Union, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The letters sent to Congress provide notice of the Administration’s intent to negotiate trade agreements with each partner as required by the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, often referred to as Trade Promotion Authority (“TPA”). USTR must wait at least 90 calendar days from yesterday’s notification to initiate negotiations, and must also publish specific negotiating objectives in the Federal Register at least 30 days before talks begin.

In addition to general negotiating objectives across numerous areas – including trade in goods, services, and agriculture; intellectual property; digital trade and cross-border data flows; labor and the environment; trade remedies; anti-corruption; and dispute settlement – TPA also establishes procedures for consultation with Congress and other stakeholders throughout trade agreement negotiations. These procedures include required reports on certain aspects of the agreement prior to signing the agreement; Congressional notification 90 days before signature; release of the final agreement text 60 days before signature; and Congressional notification of expected changes to U.S. law 60-180 days before signature. USTR also engages with public and private sector stakeholders through consultation with various policy- and sector-oriented trade advisory committees and through comment periods and hearings announced in the Federal Register.

The United States began bilateral negotiations with the EU in July 2013 in an effort called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (“TTIP”). The last round – the 15th – of those negotiations took place in New York in early October 2016, during the Obama Administration. While the Trump Administration’s new trade talks with the EU will likely build on some aspects of the prior negotiations, it is unclear at this point how previously agreed upon terms will be treated. Notably, the interests of the United Kingdom, as a member of the EU, were represented in those earlier TTIP negotiations. As a result of the UK’s exit from the European Union, the Administration now intends to enter into a separate trade agreement with the UK. As stated in USTR’s notification letter to Congress, those discussions will begin “as soon as {the UK} is ready after it exits from the European Union on March 29, 2019.” In its Congressional notification letters regarding both the EU and the UK, the USTR cited challenges from multiple tariff and non-tariff barriers, leading to chronic U.S. trade imbalances.

The United States and Japan also have a history of trade negotiations, but in the context of the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) among 12 countries. Although the United States signed a completed TPP agreement in February 2016, that deal was never ratified by the United States, which withdrew from the agreement on January 23, 2017. Japan was instrumental in corralling the remaining 11 countries to sign a modified agreement called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (“CPTPP”) in March 2018. Until as recently as September 26th of this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had resisted the idea of bilateral talks with the United States, instead favoring the United States’ return to the CPTPP. Recent discussions on the potential for the United States to impose 25 percent tariff on automobile exports from Japan apparently brought Japan to the table. “Japan is an important, but still too often underperforming, market for U.S. exporters of goods,” USTR said in its letter to Congress. “U.S. exporters in key sectors such as automobiles, agriculture, and services have been challenged by multiple tariffs and non-tariff barriers for decades.”