For Biden, untangling Trump’s trade wars takes backseat to economy

August 20, 2020

CPA’s Take: The battle within the Biden campaign on trade between the Wall Street globalists and the fair traders is real. 

The former vice president is eager to de-emphasize trade, but that could leave tensions with allies and progressive Democrats to boil over.

[Gavin Bade | August 20, 2020 | Politico]

“Trump is going to leave a lot of trade debris out there,” said Bill Reinsch, a trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, mentioning ongoing talks with the U.K. and Kenya, a WTO meeting next June, and worsening China relations.

“Saying we’re going to worry about all of it later really isn’t a viable strategy,” said Reinsch, who previously served as undersecretary of commerce for export administration in the Clinton White House.

Biden’s reluctance to discuss trade policy could be glossing over debate in his campaign — and the larger Democratic Party — over whether to return to the free-trading agendas of Presidents Obama and Clinton, or to take a more populist tack to reform global trading deals and institutions in an effort to protect the environment and pay workers more.

“I think there’s a battle going on,” said Beth Batlzan, a former trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, between moderate Democrats who think “more trade is always better and liberalization is the answer to everything” and more progressive elements.

“There are Democrats who were so supportive of free trade, but recognize that 2016 reflected a real frustration among factory workers about the way we’ve done trade. Those Democrats want to focus on domestic issues. They do not want genuine reform of trade,” said Baltzan, who was the chief customs lawyer for U.S. trade agreements between 2003 and 2009 before advising Democrats on the House committee.

“But if you don’t reform the rules of globalization, your economy is as susceptible to offshoring as it was 20 or 30 years ago," she added.

Democratic leaders in Congress are eager to present a united front with Biden on trade. House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who is facing a stiff primary challenge from a progressive candidate, said he and the former vice president are “very much on the same page about supply chains and revisiting the effects of unfettered globalization.”

“It is clear to me that revisiting globalization is fundamentally about revisiting the relationship between what we manufacture and what we trade — and with whom we trade,” Neal said in a statement to POLITICO, stressing his and Biden’s agendas are aligned. He added that he’s confident the Democratic nominee will “confront our trade policies head on.”

Blumenauer argued there’s less tension in the Democratic caucus over its trade agenda than critics believe, saying many members are convinced any new deals need stronger worker and environmental protections than the deals of the past.

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