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Trump’s Trade Policy Failed — And Biden Should Abandon It

When he became president, Joe Biden summarily reversed his predecessor's policies on a range of issues, including climate change, immigration, taxes, social welfare and police reform. But on international trade, it's almost like Donald Trump never left.

Trump had a primitive view of this issue. Good, in his view, were exports, trade surpluses, tariffs and trade wars. Bad were imports, trade deficits and multilateral trade agreements.

He saw global commerce as a zero-sum game, in which anything that benefited another country must come at our expense, and vice versa. He was unable to grasp that exchanges of goods and services across national borders could — and do — make people in every nation better off.

So, Trump slapped tariffs on steel, aluminum, solar panels and washing machines. He put tariffs on some $360 billion worth of Chinese apparel, appliances, machinery, shoes and more. He threatened to slap import taxes on cars made abroad.

He pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade accord with 11 other countries. He ended talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a major effort to lower trade barriers between the U.S. and the European Union. He nullified the World Trade Organization, which resolves trade disputes, by blocking the appointment of new members to the body that hears those cases.

But his efforts accomplished nothing worthwhile. They raised prices to American consumers while punishing American companies that use steel and aluminum. What the Tax Foundation described as "one of the largest tax increases in decades" now costs the typical American family more than $1,200 a year.

The tariffs failed to create jobs in the steel industry, which shrank even before the pandemic, and produced only a tiny boost in aluminum jobs. But a study by economists at the consulting firm The Trade Partnership estimated they would eliminate some 145,000 jobs in other sectors.

Our trading partners retaliated against U.S. companies with tariffs of their own. American farmers were hit so hard that Trump had to come up with $23 billion to cushion the blow.

Nor did his strategy reduce our trade deficits. The overall U.S. trade deficit last year was the biggest since 2008. China has not given up the practices Trump was trying to stop.

In March, Gallup found that 63 percent of Americans — including 79 percent of Democrats — have a positive view of trade, with only 32 percent disagreeing. Biden was part of the Obama administration, which negotiated the Pacific trade deal and pressed hard to reach an agreement with the EU. But the Democratic Party has somehow fallen under the sway of protectionists, and he's shown little interest in resisting.

He's left most of Trump's tariffs in place, and his trade representative, Katherine Tai, said removing them would be a bad idea. She vowed a "worker-centric" trade policy focused on raising wages, omitting such goals as expanding commerce and fostering competition. Her stance fits the prevailing progressive superstition that commerce with the world makes us poorer.

That view is bad economics and bad history. In her 2019 book Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration and Global Capital, Reed College economist Kimberly Clausing argues that tariffs "harm consumers, with particularly harmful effects for low- and middle-income workers," while creating disruptions that eliminate jobs in affected industries. Nearly nine out of ten losses in manufacturing jobs, she notes, are the result of technological advances, not international competition.

Trump portrayed China as a ruthless predator that exploits global rules for competitive advantage. But that's the very reason that he should have kept the U.S. in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to facilitate trade among the Pacific Rim countries — not including China.

It would have put strong pressure on Beijing to reform its trade practices to gain admission. But with the TPP dead at Trump's hands, 15 Asian countries opted for a different trade agreement. In this accord, China is in, and the U.S. is out.

Trump's sabotage of the WTO's appellate body was another own goal. From 2002 through 2018, it had heard 23 cases involving disputes between the U.S. and China — with the U.S. winning 20 and China winning zero (with three pending). The U.S. should be pushing the WTO to crack down on China's abuses, not kneecapping the only system for addressing them.

As a rule, any policy Trump embraced is one that ought to be abandoned. Trade is not the exception.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

#EndorseThis: Trump Sends America Into Rapid Decline — But Being Losers Isn’t All Bad

By now everyone has realized that Donald Trump isn’t “making America great again.” Indeed despite his blustering rhetoric, Trump’s presidency has consistently elevated China, Russia, and other US rivals, while diminishing our country’s prestige and prospects every day. From the Trans Pacific Partnership to the Paris Climate Accords, the botched diplomacy of this buffoonish president is presented in authoritarian countries that “democracy doesn’t work.” (It certainly didn’t work last year, when the candidate who got the most votes came in second.)

But there’s a brighter side to Trump’s dizzying acceleration of American decline. As Ronnie Chieng tells Trevor Noah, being the world’s number two power is much easier and more fun than being number one!

Not safe for work.

In Asia, Obama Faces Trade Pact Test Amid U.S. Opposition

By Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When President Barack Obama travels to Asia next week, he will try to reassure leaders in the region that he still has the clout to deliver U.S. approval for the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though the two candidates vying to succeed him and a congressional leader have said the 12-nation trade deal should not move forward.

The trade pact is the economic pillar of Obama’s broader plan to shift U.S. foreign policy toward Asia and counter the rising economic and military might of China.

“It would be a real setback for Obama’s legacy and for the rebalance strategy if TPP were not to be ratified,” said Matthew Goodman, a former Obama foreign policy adviser now at the CSIS think-tank in Washington.

Domestic politics have put the deal’s future in doubt. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday the Senate would not vote on the pact this year, punting it to the next president, who will take office on Jan. 20.

Both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have said they oppose the TPP, citing past trade deals that have cost Americans jobs. As Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton backed the Pacific trade deal.

Obama has said the TPP will boost labor and environmental standards – fixing some of the problems seen in past trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement – and give both large and small U.S. companies access to the world’s fastest-growing markets.

The White House said failure to approve the TPP would hurt U.S. interests in Asia, where some leaders made politically tough decisions to advance the deal.

“In this part of the world, which is the largest emerging market in the world, TPP is seen as a litmus test for U.S. leadership,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Monday.

“We would be stepping back from that leadership role, we would be ceding the region to countries like China who do not set the same types of high standards for trade agreements were we to not follow through with TPP,” Rhodes said.

Estimates of the potential economic impact of TPP vary, but most show little meaningful growth for the U.S. economy. Estimates from the Peterson Institute, an economic think-tank in Washington, suggest that TPP would raise growth by 0.5 percent after 15 years.

Even those estimates, which amount to a rounding error in U.S. economic output, have been criticized as being too optimistic due to their treatment of so-called non-trade measures that are included in the analysis.

But White House spokesman Josh Earnest said polls shows most Americans support the deal, creating “a path for us to get this done” before Jan. 20.

In an interview, Former U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab described the odds of the TPP passing as slim, but not impossible.

“There’s history of candidates criticizing previous administrations’ policies on trade and then having to figure out how to live with them in office, and they include presidents Obama and (former Democratic president Bill) Clinton,” said Schwab, who served as trade representative under former Republican President George W. Bush.

Obama arrives in China on Saturday where he will meet President Xi Jinping and attend the G20, and then travel to Laos for two additional regional summits, returning to Washington on Sept. 9.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner, Alana Wise and Timothy Ahmann; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while hosting a conversation on community policing and criminal justice at the White House in Washington July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Sanders Delegates Are Not Going Away Quietly at the DNC

Published with permission from AlterNet,

Hundreds of Bernie Sanders delegates and their supporters met for several hours on Monday morning to orchestrate their protests on the floor of the Democratic Convention and to hound members of Congress who are rejecting their issues—starting with the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and a Medicare-for-all health care system.

“If you are against the TPP and are delegates and can be whips for us, I need names,” yelled California Sanders delegate, Susan George, from the podium as activists unfurled a yellow and black banner with three-feet-tall letters reading TPP = BETRAYAL. “This is for tonight,” she continued. “We need a whip in every state.”

“Hey, hey, ho, ho—TPP has got to go! You got that down for tonight?” blared Larry Cohen, the ex-Communications Workers of America president and Sanders campaign representative. “The important thing here this morning is how we stop the TPP. We all know what’s wrong with it… We all know the TPP stinks and no TPP!”

“No TPP! No TPP! No TPP,” replied the crowd, as Cohen continued introduce Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley to moderate, saying he “does the right thing in every single case, including being the only U.S. senator to endorse Bernie Sanders for president.”

“Bernie for president! Bernie for President! Bernie for President,” the room erupted, as hundreds jumped to their feet and screamed.

That outpouring was part of a building crescendo that started at 9:30 A.M. in a remote wing of the downtown Philadelphia Convention Center where the Sanders campaign had convened a series of meetings to discuss how to keep two issues alive that have animated their movement—single-payer healthcare and opposing the TPP. But a parade of speakers began expressing their deep and at times visceral frustration with Democratic Party establishment, from not adopting a progressive platform, to standing with big business on trade at the expense of American workers and immigrants, to rejecting Hillary Clinton for president.

In between, organizers with the Sanders campaign let it be known that they were trying to gather enough delegates to bring their issues to the convention floor on Monday night, such as a proposed platform amendment where all Democrats agree not to adopt the TPP after the November election and before the next Congress is sworn in next January.

The session started quietly enough, although the Sanders campaign’s volunteers tried to bar reporters from entering. At first, it was only perhaps 100 nurses and top officials from National Nurses United in their ubiquitous red shirts and a smattering of dozens of delegates who filled a cavernous banquet hall.

The first speaker was James Zobgy, the longtime president of the Arab American Institute who was picked by Sanders to serve on the platform committee and introduced the amendment to support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all national health care system.

“It, like several of the other planks that were introduced, it was a no-brainer,” Zogby told the room. “But something weird happens in this process where people take their policy brain out of their heads and put in their politics brain… The fear of actually doing it stopped there. They play this chicken little game of the sky will fall [if they adopted a call for single payer].”

“This year we had a candidate running around the country calling for Medicare for all,” said Micheal Lighty, NNU policy director, who, like other speakers tried to inspire the activists to keep going and cited progress in states like Colorado, Minnesota and California. “We cannot win on any of our issues unless we fight for all of them… That is how we have to think of our fights and the political opportunities now. We are part of this broad social justice movement. The work we do electorally is a means to that, but not the end game.”

As the room began to fill, those in attendance were not there to hear consoling words. When Donna Smith, president of Progressive Democrat of America spoke, she said many reporters have been asking her if PDA would endorse Clinton. “PDA will not endorse Hillary Clinton,” she firmly declared, prompting the whole room to jump to their feet and cheer.

“The convention starts in about four and one-half hours, are you going to take this social movement to the convention,” Benjamin Day, executive director of healthcare-now.org loudly asked. “Eighty-one percent of Democrats support Medicare for all. What will it take, 85 percent? It’s not about convincing, it is about organizing. It is not just single payer, it is the racial justice movement, environmental justice, TPP… Keep this fight going! Let’s turn this entire convention into power. We will win this thing!”

But it was the TPP session that followed where the room filled with people and the energy to challenge the Democratic Party establishment rose to a new level and got specific. As Merkley introduced speaker after speaker, it became clear that nobody was ready to surrender to mainstream Democrats and abide by politely getting in line with Clinton.

When Gustavo Torres, executive director of the Washington, D.C. based Casa in Action, a immigrant rights group, told the room that prior trade agreements like NAFTA left hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants without work and pushed them to migrate to the U.S. without documentation, people grimly nodded.

“We believe it is very important to send a message,” he said. “We want Secretary Clinton and Sen. [Tim] Kaine to be president, right?”
“No!” voices immediately replied. “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” chanted row after row of delegates and activists, followed by loud clapping.

“We want to send a message that the TPP is not a good deal for our families, right here and in central America,” Torres said, quickly summing up and leaving the stage.

Several minutes later came the CWA spokesman Chris Shelton, who told the room that never before has every major international union opposed a trade agreement. When he said that 28 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats voted to give the president fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP, people started yelling back, “Take them out! Take them out!”

He told the room that the Sanders delegates changed the platform’s draft language that said “there was a diversity of opinion about the TPP… The only word I could say was bullshit!”

“Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!” the room responded.

“Our mission now is to get the officials of the Democratic Party take their implicit rejection of the TPP and make it an explicit rejection,” Shelton said. “I urge all of you to take action. Hold your members of Congress accountable—including those 41 assholes who voted for fast track. Tell them how angry you are that they turned their backs on workers… and then we must go home and organize. Are ready to stand up and fight? Are you ready to stand up and fight?”

“Yes… Fight! Fight! Fight!” the room replied. “Stand up! Fight! Stand up! Fight.”

Immediately after, the speakers got down to specifics. Speakers told the room that any delegate needed to sign their petition to amend the party platform to say the party would not support a TTP vote in the lame-duck session after November’s election. Other volunteers passed out sheets with anti-TPP talking point and buttons.

“The thing we have to do to keep the Bernie revolution going is win on TPP,” Lori Wallach, director and founder of Global Trade Watch energetically told the room. “There will be no bigger setback for corporate America!”

“If you’re a convention delegate, please come up here and sign this amendment now,” delegate Susan George told the room, taking the podium. That promted dozens of delegates to head to the side of the stage. As they massed and were also asked what state delegation are they from—to create a united front on the convention floor later on—the campaign’s Larry Cohen took back the microphone.

“You’ve heard these amazing panels… It’s up to us. This week is up to us. We need every state to raise this issue,” he said. “Are you with us or against us? We passed out the list of the 41 senators and representatives who voted for fast track. You are eating breakfast with them. Ask them, ‘Are you with us or against us?’”

“And when you are in the hall and you hear the chant, you pick it up,” Cohen continued. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, TPP has got to go… The president needs to hear it… The speakers need to hear it… Every night. Jump in!”

Then Cohen told the room that everyone had to leave the ballroom because the Secret Service needed to conduct a sweep because Sanders was coming and non-delegates had to make room for their 1,900 delegates. As the delegates filtered back into the room and waited, their periodic cheers were louder than anything heard before—and the man who inspired it hand’t even arrived.

After the closed-door meeting, delegates said Sanders gave a standard stump speech, encouraging them to keep on fighting, but also said they had to support Hillary Clinton. That prompted boos, according to people in the room.

“You could feel the pitchforks come out,” said one nurse in a red NNU shirt, who added that the energy among delegates to protest and be heard was not deterred.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

 

Photo: Supporters gather to see U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak during a election night rally in Santa Monica, California, U.S. June 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Redmond