On November 10, 2016, the Bretton Woods Committee hosted the virtual conference, Regional Spotlight – U.S. Economic and Trade Leadership Globally: Post Election Analysis, to explore the impact the incoming U.S. Administration and Congress may have on U.S. international economic and trade policies. The event featured speakers James Bacchus, Chair, Global Practice at Greensberg Traurig and former Congressman (D-FL), and Jim Kolbe, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at German Marshall Fund and former Congressman (R-AZ). Bill Frymoyer, Senior Advisor and Director of Government Affairs at Stewart and Stewart, moderated the conversation.
Bacchus opened the session by noting that new trade agreements under the incoming administration are very unlikely to pass, including the pending TPP, which will have geopolitical risks for the U.S. in terms of its relationships with Southeast Asian trading partners, most notably China. He contended that the main focus of the new Trump administration will most likely be on enforcement of existing deals, not necessarily on new negotiations. In terms of the U.S. imposing tariffs on trading partners, he asserted that doing so without due process could potentially spark economic sanctions against the U.S. as a violation of international trade laws. On the issue of Chinese steel imports, he argued that the U.S. should either bring China to the dispute settlement mechanism at the WTO or negotiate a new rule with the WTO on the oversupply of steel.
Kolbe’s opening remarks also emphasized that passage of TPP was always an “uphill fight” since both presidential candidates opposed it. Given Trump’s campaign stance on trade, he surmised it unlikely that TPP or any new trade agreements will get done in the near term. In terms of T-TIP, he noted that it is still early in the negotiation phase, but issues such as Brexit, GMOs, and intellectual property rights make the deal less attractive to EU members. Kolbe highlighted NAFTA’s successes, and argued that it would be difficult to renegotiate NAFTA due to its already low tariffs and potential for reciprocity by Canada and Mexico against the United States.
Frymoyer asked the speakers how trade advocates can better educate the public on the benefits of trade, as voters don’t appear convinced by the data on free trade’s benefits and drawbacks. Kolbe responded that social safety nets to date have been inadequate; in particular, training programs for displaced workers, especially for the hollowing industrial middle-class who blame trade agreements for job losses, have been very ineffective and not modernized enough. Likewise, Bacchus stressed the importance of enhancing domestic policies that invest in human capital, infrastructure, structural assistance, and technology for those harmed by trade.
Audience questions centered on how policymakers can encourage multinational corporations to keep manufacturing jobs within the United States, and whether there will be stronger advocacy or more obstacles going forward in terms of U.S. engagement with the IFIs. On manufacturing, both speakers made the point that technological advancements and automation have impacted manufacturing job market dynamics more so than trade agreements. Both stressed the need to further invest in educating and better equip youth with the skills demanded by today’s workforce. On the issue of IFI engagement, both speakers agreed that it will likely be a tough task to demonstrate to the incoming administration and Congress the significance and the indispensability of the Bretton Woods institutions.