There is a lot to celebrate about the end of a presidency marked by racism and xenophobia, false promises to working people and record tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent.
The fact is, Trump failed to deliver an end to job offshoring or to revitalize U.S. manufacturing. Nor did he achieve changes to the Chinese government’s predatory practices or reduce our unsustainable trade deficit.
But his 2016 promises to do so were powerful because they connected to real and severe damage that many Americans suffered from so-called “trade” policies.
Now more than ever, we must prevent a continuation of the pro-corporate trade agenda that too many past presidents have pushed – both Republicans and Democrats.
In order for President-elect Joe Biden to deliver on his most fundamental promises to the American people, he must create a new approach to trade.
And if he fails to deliver, no doubt a right-wing autocrat will seek the presidency by exploiting many Americans’ anger over offshoring and trade job losses.
Many core elements from Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan conflict with existing U.S. trade agreements and policies, including those related to major Buy American investments in infrastructure, climate-related energy policies and standards, expanding access to affordable health care and medicines, and more.
That’s because the corporate guarantees and constraints on government action that are baked into current “trade” pacts — and the race-to-the-bottom regime of hyperglobalization they promote — conflict with Joe Biden’s goals of creating the good jobs necessary to battle economic and social inequalities, ensuring all Americans have affordable healthcare and medicines, and averting climate catastrophe.
The good news is, President-elect Biden has made some big promises on addressing our current, corporate-rigged trade rules, including:
- Imposing a moratorium on “new trade agreements until we have major investments in American workers, including (a) modern, job-creating infrastructure, (b) widespread investments in education and worker training” and “targeted support for American manufacturers, and (c) specific investments in communities to build up research and manufacturing hubs.”
- Appointing “experts from organized labor and the environmental movement to work in trade negotiating and enforcement positions” and making sure that “labor and environmental advocates are at the table from day one in future trade deals.”
- Aggressively pushing “for strong and enforceable labor provisions in every trade deal my administration negotiates – and not sign a deal unless it has those provisions.”
- Opposing “the ability of private corporations to attack labor, health, and environmental policies through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process” and opposing “the inclusion of such provisions in future trade agreements.”
- Banning fossil-fuel subsidies, slapping tariffs on imports that produce high amounts of carbon and putting emission reduction commitments into trade deals.
Our job is to build the public pressure needed to make these promises realities.
One early indicator of President-elect Biden’s trade policy plans will be who he appoints as U.S. Trade Representative – the top U.S. trade official.
As they say in Washington, “personnel is policy,” so this decision will tell us a lot.
Unfortunately, some of the candidates being floated are the same old, revolving door, corporate lobbyists and neoliberal fanatics who got us into our current trade policy mess.
We need a USTR who represents the growing Democratic consensus that our trade policies and pacts need a major overhaul.
Joe Biden will inherit a policy and political landscape on trade totally transformed since the Obama presidency ended.
This moment presents significant opportunities to reshape U.S. trade policy to benefit working people, consumers and the planet’s environmental health.
While we continue to monitor numerous trade deals being negotiated by the Trump administration as well as the implementation of the revised NAFTA deal, we are building momentum to win big, progressive trade policy changes in 2021.