Tuesday, April 10, 2012

VIDEO: Six Former USTRs Speak Frankly About US Trade Policy

CSIS held a cool event last week with six former US Trade Representatives speaking about US trade policy.  The whole video is posted below, and I highly recommend a full viewing for anyone who's interested in better understanding US trade policy (especially you foreigners out there who don't obsess over it like I do):

If you don't think you have time to view the whole video, AEI's Claude Barfield provides a nice summary on his organization's blog of some of the USTRs' more interesting points.  The title of the post - "Why the Doha Round is dead and much more" - gives a bit of the game away, but here's the more-robust accounting:
First, there was almost unanimous agreement that the Doha Round is dead and the US and other major trading nations should move on. Coming from fervent supporters of the WTO, this judgment is an important message for the trade community, and mirrors the judgment of the US business community. Only Carla Hills, the most dedicated multilateralist, expressed misgivings about jettisoning Doha negotiations.

Of more immediate interest, the group had much to say—partly in response to high interest from the audience—on the only serious negotiations now on the table: the nine-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The Obama administration wants to conclude these negotiations this year, but the USTRs all doubted this was possible. The question that has arisen then is what to do about the desire of Canada, Mexico, and Japan to join the negotiations. At a trilateral summit this past week, both Canadian PM Harper and Mexican President Calderon pressed Obama hard on this decision—with inconclusive results.

Interestingly, the USTRs almost unanimously supported the quick inclusion of both nations into the negotiations (on Japan there was more skepticism that the political situation in Japan itself would allow entrance this year). The group took this position for two reasons: one, to their credit, the trade leaders view the TPP not only as an economic agreement but also as part of a larger US diplomatic push to retain leadership in the Asia-Pacific. From this, they are convinced that only with the heft that will come from additional large economies (Canada, Mexico, Korea, and later, Japan) will the TPP emerge as a real vehicle for a trans-Pacific economic architecture. The administration will have to bite the bullet and respond over the next few months. It is hard to know what weight the USTRs collective judgment will have—but if the president does respond affirmatively he will clearly have this group at his back.

One final partisan note: at the end of the session came a political question: to wit, why had trade policy virtually stopped when the Obama administration came into office. Barshevsky gave a general answer pointing to the economic crisis in 2009. Fair enough, but what was missing here and often in these sessions is a clear statement of political reality: on trade issues, a Democratic president for at least two decades has faced a deeply divided party. In general, a majority of House Democrats oppose new trade liberalizing agreements. A Republican president, on the other hand, in general has a united party on trade, backed strongly by the business community.

This makes a huge difference on White House calculations—not least when elections loom every two and four years.
Barfield then added one more interesting point over email:
[N]ot a single USTR supported the president’s reorganization plan — or at least folding USTR into Commerce or a new department.
Ouch.  I'm happy to note that the esteemed USTRs' consensus views closely mirror my own, less-esteemed opinions.  (I promise that I will try not to tear a rotator cuff patting myself on the back.)  

That critically-important point aside, I hope that the few summary points above will convince you to take the time to watch the video and learn a good bit about the current - and frustrating! - state of US trade policy.


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