Trump’s Trade Deficit “Fix”: Flip-flop on China Pledges and Attack Breastfeeding, Affordable Medicines and Anti-Obesity Policies
What’s a $437 billion dollar trade deficit between frenemies? Apparently not sufficient for President Donald Trump to keep his oft-repeated pledge to declare China a currency manipulator, the world learned last week.
This reversal comes on the heels of last week’s study-not-action move on his promise to reduce the trade deficit. President Trump signed an Executive Order to create yet another study on foreign trade barriers – oddly enough, on the same day that his administration released the government’s annual report that analyzes “significant foreign trade barriers” among U.S. trading partners.
So what are these so-called “trade barriers”?
Well, sadly, they are an embarrassing list of attacks on other countries’ public health and environmental policies, financial regulations and even religious standards.
Japan’s programs that reduce the cost of medicines and New Zealand’s popular health programs that control medicine prices are on the hit list. (Yup, the list includes attacks on policies that promote competition from generic drugs to bring down prices for consumers, which ostensibly is what “free trade” is supposed to do.)
Also targeted is Vietnam – for strengthening its inspection processes for imported foods. Mexico’s new energy efficiency standards for electronic and electrical equipment are smacked because they impose “burdensome and costly requirements on products exported to Mexico.”
Bad on Canada for having requirement that drug companies, um, demonstrate a medicine’s utility before firms can obtain monopoly patent rights. Somehow the European Union’s requirement that corporations “obtain parental consent to process the personal data of minors aged 16 years or younger” is a trade barrier because this forces corporations “to interrupt or curtail service to a large and active segment of their customer base.”
And then they go after the babies. Public interest policies aimed at promoting breastfeeding are “significant trade barriers.” That includes a draft Hong Kong code meant to “protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children.” The administration labels this to be a technical barrier to trade due to its potential to reduce sales of “food products for infants and young children.”
The report goes after Thailand for introducing a new regulation that would impose penalties on corporations that violate domestic laws restricting the “promotional, and marketing activities for modified milk for infants, follow-up formula for infants and young children, and supplemental foods for infants.” That would otherwise be known as Thailand’s implementation of the World Health Organization/United Nations Children Fund International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.
Continuing with the attack on policies promoting children’s health, the report attacks several countries have introduced policies to reduce obesity among children and adolescents. In Chile, the government adopted a law that requires food products that exceed specified thresholds of sodium, sugar, energy (calories), and saturated fat “to bear a black octagonal ‘stop’ sign for each category with the words ‘High in’ salt, sugar, energy, or saturated fat.” The law prohibits corporations from advertising products that have at least one stop sign to children under the age of fourteen. The report explains this listing by claiming that this law has been costly for corporations. (Odd, no mention of cost to the government or Chilean public of obesity-related childhood health problems.)
In Peru, a similar regulation “includes a mandatory front-of-pack warning statement on food labels for prepackaged foods that surpass an established threshold for sugar, sodium, and saturated fats, and for all food products that contain trans-fats. The Act also establishes restrictions on advertising and promoting such food products to children and adolescents.” The report labels this as a barrier to trade and asserts that it will continue to raise its concerns with Peru.
The report also gripes that it’s unfair that Malaysia – a predominately Muslim country – restricts the importation of alcohol, and that Brunei – another predominately Muslim country – requires that non-halal foods be sold in specially designated rooms.
Obviously, promoting bacon and booze sales in Muslim countries and sacking public health laws will solve our job-killing trade deficit. So why follow through on those “get tough on China trade cheating” pledges, or trade policy, or tackle the rules in our flawed trade deals that incentivize job-offshoring? Or, could it be that the Trump administration’s notion of “trade barriers” is coming from the same corporations that have shaped our past trade policies and, year after year, get the list of policies they dislike turned into the U.S. government’s list of other countries’ trade barriers requiring elimination?