Cuba Mentioned 14 Times In New USTR Report; What Became Of “Trade and Investment Working Group” Established in September 2016?

On 1 March 2017, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) within the Executive Office of the President, published a 336-page “2017 Trade Policy Agenda and 2016 Annual Report of the President of the United States on the Trade Agreements Program Office of the United States Trade Representative.” Link to Report.  The media release:

The Office of the United States Trade Representative releases President Trump’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda

The new Trade Agenda reinforces the Administration’s commitment to defend American interests through the promotion of truly free and fair trade.

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative ("USTR") released President Trump's 2017 Trade Policy Agenda, as required by Congress.  The 2017 Agenda outlines the new Administration’s four trade priorities: promoting U.S. sovereignty, enforcing U.S. trade laws, leveraging American economic strength to expand our goods and services exports, and protecting U.S. intellectual property rights.  USTR leads development and implementation of the President’s Trade Policy Agenda, which it provides with the Annual Report on trade developments.

Page 135 of the report, under the category of “Other Priority Work,” contained the following reference to the Republic of Cuba.

The United States continued its engagement with other countries in the region, aimed at fostering bilateral trade relations and resolving trade problems during 2016. Highlights of USTR’s other priority activities in the region include:


In addition to the United States-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue established in 2015, the U.S. Department of State held a meeting of the United States-Cuba Economic Dialogue in September 2016, during which the United States and Cuba agreed to create the Trade and Investment Working Group, which would be chaired by USTR on the U.S. side and Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment on the Cuban side.” 

In October 2016, then-USTR Ambassador Michael Froman visited the Republic of Cuba in what was a non-publicized visit- with little information provided before, during or after the visit.  A 10 October 2016 blog post:

USTR Ambassador & Deputy Visit Cuba... MINREX Provides More Information Than US Government... Why?

Why is the government of the Republic of Cuba more transparent about it discussions with officials of the government of the United States?  They reported who the meetings were with, what was discussed, and issued an image (see below). 

On 4 October 2016, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced that USTR Ambassador Michael Froman will visit Havana, Republic of Cuba, from 5 October 2016 to 8 October 2016 for “bilateral meetings.”  The Honorable Matthew Vogel, Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative will also participate. 

Not identified as participating were support staff and John Melle, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Western Hemisphere; Matthew McAlvanah, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public and Media Affairs.

The delegation traveled using regularly-scheduled commercial airlines.

The visit was not announced in USTR's regularly-scheduled calendar issued on Friday, 30 September 2016.

Ambassador Froman was the seventh (7th) member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet to visit the Republic of Cuba since 17 December 2014.

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba

"CUBA, October 7, 2016.- On 6 and 7 October, made an official visit to Cuba Ambassador Michael Froman, Office of the United States Trade Representative, during which he was received by ministers Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Foreign Affairs; and Rodrigo Malmierca, Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment.

He also met with Deputy Ministers of the Ministries of Communications, Agriculture and Science, Technology and Environment.

At the meetings they were discussed issues of interest to both related to the field of trade parties. Ambassador Froman and his delegation visited the Special Area Development Mariel, an agricultural cooperative and the Historic Center of Old Havana. (Cubaminrex)"

NOTE: Mrs. Josefina de la Caridad Vidal Ferreiro, the Director General (since 2013) of the Department of the United States at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, reported that from October 2016 through December 2016 seven high-level visits by both officials of the government of the Republic of Cuba and delegations from the United States were scheduled to be held in Washington, DC, and in Havana.  The United States Department of State has not mentioned the number of visits.

NOTE: There remains a continuing issue with the Obama Administration relating to the transparency for visits to the Republic of Cuba by senior-level officials. 

NOTE: The United States business community would be better served by having advance notification of meetings that will impact the United States business community.

The “2017 Trade Policy Agenda and 2016 Annual Report of the President of the United States on the Trade Agreements Program Office of the United States Trade Representative” also mentioned the Republic of Cuba in the following pages of the publication:

Page 15: 1. Committee on Agriculture

Major Issues in 2016

The Agriculture Committee held four formal meetings, in March, June, September, and November 2016, to review progress on the implementation of commitments negotiated in the Uruguay Round. At the meetings, Members undertook reviews based on notifications by Members in the areas of market access, domestic support, export subsidies, export prohibitions and restrictions, and general matters relevant to the implementation of commitments.

In total, 206 notifications were subject to review during 2016. The United States participated actively in the review process and raised specific issues concerning the operation of Members’ agricultural policies. For example, the United States regularly raised points with respect to domestic support in many Members, including Afghanistan, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Georgia, India, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. The United States used the review process to question Canada’s dairy and wine policies; India’s price support policies; Brazil’s Program for Product Flow (PEP – Prêmio para Escoamento do Produto) and Program for Producer-paid Equalization Subsidy

(PEPRO – Prêmio de Equalização pago ao Produtor) for rice, wheat, and corn; Costa Rica’s rice support program; India’s Export Assistance programs; Moldova’s poultry tariffs; Thailand’s rice policies; and Turkey’s wheat flour export policies under the Turkish Grain Board. The United States raised questions with respect to tariff-rate-quota fill issues with China, Guatemala, and Switzerland. The United States also raised questions regarding Canada’s export subsidy notifications for butter, and questioned missing information in Afghanistan’s export subsidy notification tables. Finally, the United States raised questions with the Russian Federation’s food aid notification to ensure it was consistent with WTO practices, and encouraged countries including China and Turkey to bring their notifications up to date.

During 2016, the Agriculture Committee addressed a number of other issues related to the implementation of the Agriculture Agreement, such as: (1) convening the third annual dedicated discussion on export competition, as follow-up to the Bali and Nairobi Ministerial outcomes; and (2) exchanging views on approaches to strengthening Committee work relating to transparency.

Disputes Brought Against the United States

Section 124 of the URAA requires, inter alia, that the Annual Report on the WTO describe, for the preceding fiscal year of the WTO: each proceeding before a panel or the Appellate Body that was initiated during that fiscal year regarding Federal or State law, the status of the proceeding, and the matter at issue; and each report issued by a panel or the Appellate Body in a dispute settlement proceeding regarding Federal or State law. This section includes summaries of dispute settlement activity in 2016 for disputes in which the United States was a responding party (listed by DS number).

Page 70: United States – Section 211 Omnibus Appropriations Act (DS176)

Section 211 addresses the ability to register or enforce, without the consent of previous owners, trademarks or trade names associated with businesses confiscated without compensation by the Cuban government. The EU questioned the consistency of Section 211 with the TRIPS Agreement and requested consultations on July 7, 1999. Consultations were held September 13 and December 13, 1999. On June 30, 2000, the EU requested a panel. A panel was established on September 26, 2000, and at the request of the EU, the WTO Director General composed the panel on October 26, 2000. The Director General composed the panel as follows: Mr. Wade Armstrong, Chair; and Mr. François Dessemontet and Mr. Armand de Mestral, Members. The Panel report was circulated on August 6, 2001, rejecting 13 of the EU’s 14 claims and finding that, in most respects, section 211 is not inconsistent with the obligations of the United States under the TRIPS Agreement. The EU appealed the decision on October 4, 2001. The Appellate Body issued its report on January 2, 2002.

The Appellate Body reversed the Panel’s one finding against the United States and upheld the Panel’s favorable findings that WTO Members are entitled to determine trademark and trade name ownership criteria. The Appellate Body found certain instances, however, in which section 211 might breach the national treatment and most favored nation obligations of the TRIPS Agreement. The Panel and Appellate Body reports were adopted on February 1, 2002, and the United States informed the DSB of its intention to implement the recommendations and rulings. The RPT for implementation ended on June 30, 2005. On June 30, 2005, the United States and the EU agreed that the EU would not request authorization to suspend concessions at that time and that the United States would not object to a future request on grounds of lack of timeliness.

In January 2016, the United States notified the EU of positive developments that resolved a longstanding issue of concern to the EU and others, which helped moved this dispute into a more cooperative phase.

Page 96: Major Issues in 2016

Since its inception in 1989 to the end of 2016, the TPRB has conducted 452 reviews. The reviews have covered 153 of 164 Members. Those Members not yet reviewed by the end of 2016 are Afghanistan, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Lao PDR, Liberia, Montenegro, Samoa, Seychelles, Tajikistan, Vanuatu, and Yemen. Of the 36 LDC Members of the WTO, the TPRB had reviewed 31 by the end of 2016.

While each review highlights the specific issues and measures concerning the individual Member, certain common themes emerged during the course of the reviews conducted in 2016.  These included:

  • transparency in policy making and implementation;
  • economic environment and trade liberalization;
  • implementation of the WTO Agreements (including acceptance and implementation of the WTO TFA);
  • regional trade agreements and their relationship with the multilateral trading system;
  • tariff issues, including the differences between applied and bound rates;
  • customs valuation and customs clearance procedures;
  • the use of trade remedy measures such as antidumping and countervailing duties;
  • technical regulations and standards and their alignment with international standards;
  • sanitary and phytosanitary measures;
  • intellectual property rights legislation and enforcement;
  • government procurement policies and practices;
  • trade-related investment policy issues;
  • sectoral trade policy issues, particularly liberalization in agriculture and certain services sectors; and
  • technical assistance in implementing the WTO Agreements and experience with Aid for Trade, and the Enhanced Integrated Framework.

In December, WTO Members completed the sixth appraisal of the Trade Policy Review Mechanism and agreed on several reforms that aim to improve the TPRB’s review of Members’ trade policies and practices and its monitoring of the global trading environment. Most significantly, Members agreed to adjust the cycle of TPRs amid the rising number of WTO Members. Currently, Members undergo a TPR every two, four, or six years depending on the size of their economy. From 2019, the frequency will be changed to three, five, or seven years, respectively.  Members agreed to revise the timeline for the TPR question-and-answer process for those Members who opt to provide early written answers to other Members’ questions. For Members reviewed on a two-year cycle, such as the United States, it was agreed that the Secretariat Report may focus on the implementation of issues highlighted in the previous review and on actual changes due to legislation or related to new issues arising from recent WTO ministerial decisions. Further, Members agreed to create a regular item on the agenda of trade monitoring meetings to allow Members to provide brief reports on significant changes in their trade policies.