The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
Combating the pandemic will be President-elect Joe Biden’s top priority upon taking office. Biden will focus on reviving the United States’ economy and restoring jobs.
Prioritizing trade and restoring U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific region must be part of this recovery agenda.
Foreign relations are top of mind for the experienced statesman. He’s already started mending relationships with European allies antagonized by President Donald Trump.
That’s the leadership America needs. But there’s much more to do.
Trade deals are tedious and politically troublesome. But they’re necessary to restore jobs and sustain the manufacturing revival Trump advanced and Biden vowed to expand. That’s especially so in trade-dependent Washington.
The best game plan for Asia, the largest market, is on the shelf waiting for Biden. That’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement drafted by the Obama administration to establish Pacific Rim trade rules, assert U.S. leadership and counter China’s growing influence.
President Obama couldn’t get TPP through Congress. After it was demonized by labor and xenophobes, Trump and Hillary Clinton abandoned it.
Concerns about losing jobs to overseas competitors are legitimate. Trade proponents, including Biden, must mitigate harms to affected workers and regions.
But America lost overall by abandoning TPP. U.S. income stood to grow $131 billion with TPP. Instead, it faces a $2 billion loss under a version excluding the U.S., according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Trump thought he could go mano a mano instead of building coalitions. It didn’t work. His approach to China, wielding tariffs in a unilateral trade war, is hurting U.S. companies and consumers.
Trump’s approach also prompted retaliatory tariffs. That’s been “quite damaging” to Washington’s fruit industry, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.
David Bachman, a University of Washington professor of international relations, questions whether Biden would commit political capital needed to get TPP through Congress.
Bachman suggests pursuing a new trade body to succeed the World Trade Organization, which isn’t working as promised and failed to address China’s unfair practices.
That should happen regardless of TPP.
Biden promised to bridge divides, restore the middle class and make America respected around the world again.
That can’t be done alone. It requires partnerships and multilateral agreements, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Our new president is uniquely qualified for this job, and Washington’s Congressional delegation should help him get it done.