The US has vowed to take "swift action" against countries that erect non-tariff barriers to trade, and said it would prioritise and tackle "the most significant" obstructions to US exports.

Speaking as the latest annual National Trade Estimate Report was submitted to Congress yesterday (31 March), US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said: "We must work to open new markets around the world...and at the same time ensure that American workers are reaping the promised benefits of previous agreements through strong enforcement." 

The report, which is the first since President Barack Obama took office, describes the main barriers to US trade and investment faced in the last year, as well as the actions being taken by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to address them. 

Kirk also revealed the USTR is reviewing existing US trade agreements, including the enforcement of their labour and environment provisions; and plans to tackle what it sees as the most disruptive trade barriers.

It is also identifying new cases where market access for US goods is in jeopardy, and is planning to prosecute those cases through multilateral and bilateral dispute bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

USTR says it is also working with Congress to improve trade enforcement.

"The actions that USTR is undertaking will begin to implement the policies outlined in the President's trade policy agenda," said Kirk, which included plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The trade report notes barriers to US exports include onerous testing and certification requirements; new requests to register and inspect a broad range of imports; ineffective enforcement against trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy; and discriminatory excise taxes on imported products.

China, in particular, is often singled out by US textile trade groups over concerns about the subsidies provided to its textile and clothing industry.
According to calculations by the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), the country provides 73 subsidies to its textile industry - with up to two dozen of these export related.

The US has already taken action against China at the WTO to try to put a stop to various subsidies provided by the Chinese government to help boost sales of Chinese-branded merchandise around the world.

The Trade Estimate report also draws attention to several rises in the export tax rebate on textiles and garments - the most recent of which came into effect today - and high levels of apparel and footwear counterfeiting in China.

However, the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) cautions: "While the NTE Report indicates that the US government remains on the side of US businesses and manufacturers facing international trade barriers, we must be vigilant against emerging isolationist trends."

AAFA president and CEO Kevin M Burke notes: "As Ambassador Kirk settles into his new post and begins formulating a trade agenda for America, I urge him to keep focused on opening markets both here and abroad for the benefit of the US apparel and footwear industry competing in the global market."