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U.S. Trade Policy: A Research Guide

Legal Foundations of U.S. Trade Policy

Law Library of Congress Reading Room Copy of the U.S. Statutes at Large. March 12, 2013. This image was featured in In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress.

Each branch of the U.S. government contributes to U.S. trade policy.

Legislative Branch

The U.S. Congress, the legislative body of the government, advises (e.g. sets trade negotiation objectives), provides oversight, monitors, and legislates U.S. trade policy.

Executive Branch

The Executive Branch sets an agenda for trade policy, negotiates U.S. trade agreements (directly with foreign governments with input from Congress, business groups, and public interest groups), provides guidance on the implementation of the laws with the issue of regulations, makes decisions on import relief cases and national security cases, monitors the enforcement of trade agreements, and works to resolve trade disputes at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Judicial Branch

The U.S. courts make decisions on specific cases, which provides case law.

Framework of U.S. Trade Policy

The following table illustrates and helps to explain the framework of U.S. trade policy.

Branch of Government Participant Format of U.S. Trade Policy
Legislature U.S. Congress
  • Creates U.S. Statutes at Large (chronologically)
  • U.S. Code (by topic)
  • Sets trade negotiation objectives
  • Monitors and advises
Executive U.S.Trade Representative
Customs
State Department
International Trade Commission (USITC)
Other agencies
  • Negotiates trade agreements
  • Issues Federal Regulations: C.F.R. (compiled)
  • Publishes the Federal Register (proposed, recent regulations)
  • Issues policy documents
  • ITC: (quasi-judicial) – investigatory responsibilities; adjudications
Judicial Courts Decides cases, creates case law

U.S. Law Primary Sources

Included in this, and the following sections below, are the primary source documents that provide legal basis for U.S. trade policy, in both print and electronic form. Print titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital versions are provided when available.

Title 19 of the U.S. Code

Direct links to the chapters of Title 19 (Customs Duties - 19 U.S.C.) are provided below from the U.S. House version of the United States Code online.

Titles 7, 12, 15, 18, and 22 of the U.S. Code

The links below also go the U.S. House version of the United States Code. Selected chapter headings related to U.S. trade policy are provided for reference. Often a more narrow part of the code—a section is referenced within a chapter, which is within a title. For reference to other topics, use the easily accessible search function. There are also many domestic programs which provide subsidies that may affect trade.

The print titles below link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital versions are provided when available.

Related Print Publications

These resources will help understand the history of U.S. trade policy, how it is shaped, as well as current trade policy agenda and its review by WTO. The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.