The USITC is an independent, nonpartisan, factfinding federal agency, and one of its statutory responsibilities is to provide information to key U.S. trade policymakers on matters related to tariffs and trade. For the most part, the USITC conducts investigations at the request of the U.S. Trade Representative (who is the President's cabinet-level official concerning international trade matters), the Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Committee on Finance of the U.S. Senate.
On October 6, 2009, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) requested that the USITC investigate and report on the extent and composition of U.S. exports by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and factors that may disproportionately impede U.S. SME exports. Accordingly, the USITC instituted three separate investigations. The first investigation was completed in January and released to the public on January 19. It provided an overview of available data regarding U.S. exports by SMEs and identified gaps in the existing data. You can view that report here.
The second and third investigations are now underway. The USTR expressly asked the USITC to gather information for these reports directly from SME exporters and SMEs with an interest in exporting in addition to its standard investigative activities. Given that many SMEs do not have the resources to travel to Washington, the USITC Commissioners decided to hold two regional public hearings to supplement the extensive staff field work, the Washington, DC, public hearing, and other investigative activities that these investigations will involve.
The Commission is interested in particular in obtaining information and views on the following:
- the most significant constraints that U.S. SMEs face in their efforts to export
- the strategies that SMEs have adopted to address or overcome these constraints
- the benefits to SMEs of increased export opportunities from free trade agreements or other trading arrangements
- the characteristics of SMEs that export services
- how exporting affects SME business performance
- the extent to which U.S. SMEs have global operations
- how SMEs based in the United States differ in their exporting activities from SMEs based in the European Union and other leading economies
Because we need your input. The real-world views of SMEs actively involved in exporting are crucial to the study and to the USTR. We can only hear those views by speaking directly with companies like yours. Some of the USITC's work in these investigations will be groundbreaking research, and much of it must be gathered first-hand. The USITC will conduct its research through a variety of means, including interviews with government and private sector entities, discussions with business organizations and business leaders, site visits, questionnaires, and its Washington and regional field hearings.
Hearings conducted by the USITC are a vital part of the investigations the Commission performs. The purpose of USITC hearings is twofold: they provide the USITC with an opportunity to gather information, and they provide you with an opportunity to appear and make your views known.
Information gathered from hearing participants and through written submissions will become part of the official record in the investigation and will be used by the USITC in preparing its report to the USTR on the issues covered by the investigations. The reports will ultimately be released to the public.
A brief synopsis of field-hearing related information follows. The Secretary will provide witnesses with more detailed information on hearings procedures when they are entered onto the witness list.
USITC hearings are formal proceedings. They are on the record, and a court reporter is present to create an official transcript. Participants swear an oath that the information they are providing is true and complete. Hearings are open to the public; they are often covered by the news media.
Commission participants in the hearing include the six Commissioners, who may have a staff member assisting them; the Secretary to the Commission, who conducts the hearing proceedings, swears-in the witnesses, ensures time limitations are observed, and ensures that the official record is properly compiled; and the investigative staff, who are Commission employees charged with managing the investigations.
All witnesses must be sworn in by the Secretary prior to the hearing, and any copies of testimony that they bring will be distributed to Commissioners and staff by the Secretary. The Secretary will call the room to order at 9:30 a.m., and the Chairman will open the hearing with an opening statement. The Commission will hear testimony from any Congressional, state, or local officials who wish to appear. The first witnesses, who will be arranged in a panel, will then be called. Each witness will deliver his or her testimony within the time allotted by the Secretary (this information will be provided to participants in advance). At the conclusion of direct testimony from the panel, the Commissioners will ask questions of the witnesses. Questioning occurs in one-hour rounds, with each Commissioner having 10 minutes per round for their questions. There will be as many rounds as necessary until all Commissioner questions are asked and answered. The investigative staff may then ask questions of the witnesses. At the conclusion of the staff question period, the witnesses will be dismissed and the next panel of witnesses will be called.
Witnesses may be asked to provide more detailed information or address other questions in the form of a post-hearing submission. At the end of the hearing, the Chairman will announce the deadline for responding to requests for post-hearing submissions as well as page limitations, if any.