Sunday, March 7, 2021
March 7, 2021

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In Our View: Biden must work for trade policy to benefit all

The Columbian
Published:

During four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” shortsightedness, the rest of the world has moved forward. Even during a pandemic-caused economic downturn, other nations have been forging agreements and planning for a robust future while the United States has wallowed in a bunker mentality.

Restoring prosperity for American workers in the wake of COVID-19 will require trade that further opens foreign markets to American goods and signals that U.S. markets are welcoming foreign-made products. This is particularly important in Washington, the nation’s most trade-dependent state.

The need for president-elect Joe Biden to repair international relations is demonstrated by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The agreement, led by China and signed last month by 15 international partners, is the world’s largest trade pact and includes nations accounting for about 30 percent of global economic activity.

The United States, meanwhile, is engaged in a Trump-created trade war with China, a war marked by tariffs on Chinese goods that were followed by counter-tariffs on American products.

That trade war has adhered to Trump’s philosophy of economic nationalism — a mantra that helped him get elected in 2016. And it has failed.

For example, according to a study last year by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, each job saved or created by Trump’s steel tariffs has cost American consumers and businesses more than $900,000. For another example, U.S. taxpayers in 2018 and 2019 paid $28 billion to American farmers harmed by tariffs — a prime example of the socialism Trump so often decries.

Meanwhile, other tariffs and counter-tariffs have led China to purchase airplanes from Europe’s Airbus rather than Boeing and to reduce apple imports from the United States, all while the cost of goods from China increases. Those developments directly impact our state.

“It’s making the cost of products we use in our daily lives, or companies use as components in their manufacturing, much more expensive,” Gary Locke, a former Washington governor and former U.S. ambassador to China, told The Seattle Times.

Some, including Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, have lauded Trump for being tough on China regarding the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets. But the cost of this alleged toughness has been borne by American workers and consumers, with few benefits to show for it.

Biden must take a more inclusive approach to trade, engaging with the international community to bring real pressure on China instead of repeating Trump’s unilateral approach.

“I’m not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs,” Biden said last week. “I’m not going to prejudice my options.”

Caution is preferable to Trump’s empty bluster, but a quick change to trade policy is necessary.

Among the options is a revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was negotiated by the Obama administration but failed to garner support from either Republicans or Democrats in 2016.

The agreement between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim partners was designed to counter China’s growing economic influence, but it drew dissent because of concerns about a lack of protections for American workers.

The TPP could serve as a blueprint for new negotiations and for a new era in which the United States works with the international community for the benefit of all.

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