USTR Warren FY24 Release Partly Redacted


June 04, 2024


On December 11, 2023, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a series of FOIA requests to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). We have been seeking to understand the factors that influenced the precedent-breaking decisions made by USTR regarding its sudden withdrawal of support for strong digital trade rules in the WTO, which were based on language in existing U.S. trade agreements.

The policy shift also affected the U.S. position in digital trade negotiations in the Indo-Pacific Economic Partnership (IPEF).

In January, USTR responded to two of the FOIA requests by producing its visitor logs for the time requested, as well as USTR communications with outside groups Rethink Trade, Open Markets Institute, and Public Citizen.

In April, USTR responded to an additional two FOIA requests, in which the U.S. Chamber requested “all records related to the dates of communications between United States Trade Representative or her staff with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ),” from January 1, 2023, to present.

In May, USTR finally responded to the last remaining FOIA request that sought communications between USTR officials and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office—more than six months after the request was made. The responses are available on this page.

What We Discovered

  • USTR produced 223 pages of responsive records with limited redactions.  
  • The records show the deferential and highly coordinated approach USTR works to maintain with Senator Warren’s office.
  • There are numerous “heads up” emails providing Senator Warren’s office with advanced notice before USTR actions become public. 
  • Senator Warren’s office appears to be "in the know” as early as the end of August of 2023 about deliberations that led up to the October decision to withdraw text from the JSI talks at the WTO. 
  • Activities to manage the fallout from USTR’s controversial WTO decision were closely coordinated with Senator Warren’s office: collaborating on media outreach, managing bipartisan backlash from the Hill, and soliciting edits from USTR for a Senator Warren-organized letter to President Biden defending the decision.   
  • Communications also include interest in agriculture issues (including for Massachusetts cranberry farmers), Taiwan negotiations, IPEF digital provisions, US-Kenya talks, USMCA labor disputes, the make-up of trade advisory committees, and Canada’s digital services tax, among other things.  
  • Further, the emails show conversations between Senator Warren’s office and USTR focused on undermining investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) commitments the U.S. maintains with trading partners. 

The Bottom Line

The U.S. Trade Representative’s close coordination with Senator Warren’s office raises serious questions about transparency and influence. The records reveal a selectively deferential approach and early communication on significant decisions impacting digital trade rules and other trade-related matters.

USTR Warren FY24 Release Partly Redacted