September 7, 2016

A Trade Strategy for the 21st Century

The Washington Post recently asked a very good question: “If Not the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Then What?”   Since the problematic TPP is clearly not a gold standard that can define trade policies for the 21st century, what principles should?

Forty years of trade deficits, lost jobs, and closed factories make it clear that America’s current trade policies do not work in a world where exchange rates, driven by capital flows rather than trade in real goods and services, are rarely the rates required to balance trade. This note provides an outline for a new U.S. approach to foreign trade policy, anchored to balanced trade, that is suitable for the realities of today’s globalized, financialized world.

1. Balanced Trade: 

America’s nearly unbroken string of trade deficits since the 1970s has been driven by two major factors: the failure of international markets to maintain the dollar at a trade balancing equilibrium exchange rate, and foreign country currency manipulation. America’s foreign trade policy for the 21st century should start by restoring balanced trade with the following currency-related actions:
Implement a Market Access Charge (MAC)  that would bring the dollar back to its trade-balancing equilibrium exchange rate and keep it there – regardless of what other countries may do. 
Implement a Countervailing Currency Interventions (CCI)  policy to discourage and counteract any resurgence of currency manipulation by trading partners. 
Establish quantifiable triggers for all currency-related actions so that they come into effect automatically. 

2. Fair Trade: 

Other countries hurt American exports, domestic production, corporate profitability and family incomes with their unfair trade practices. America needs to restore fair trade with the following actions:

Fully enforce adherence to obligations in existing trade agreements. 
Implement policies such as those in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 that enforce payment of penalties levied in accordance with America’s countervailing, antidumping, and other trade remedy laws.
Revise existing rules, preferably in collaboration with other countries, where current rules fail to prevent unfair trade. 

3. Growing Trade: 

Once America has assured that its international trade is and will remain balanced, expand trade through multilateral and bilateral agreements such as a revised TPP. Such agreements should:
Have benefits that clearly exceed their costs -- including the costs borne by adversely affected workers and industries.
Assure that the benefits of expanded trade are distributed in an equitable manner, taking into account costs to groups hurt by expanded international competition. 
Provide an enforceable framework of rules consistent with contemporary realities to assure that trade under such agreements is fair and balanced. 

4. Strategic Trade and Domestic Development:

Along with these actions on the international front, America should implement domestic policies that will help all Americans gain the greatest possible benefits from the opportunities provided by trade that is balanced, fair and growing.  Such policies should accomplish the following:
Develop America’s manufacturing capacity in strategically important areas through industrial policies that build up the R&D capacity and diffusion mechanisms needed to assure that U.S. manufacturing can develop internationally-competitive capacity in high value added and advanced manufactured goods. 
Develop America’s “industrial commons.” Grow the network of researchers, suppliers, producers, investors, workers, and markets throughout America who provide the essential basis for America’s international competitiveness. 
Restore and Expand America’s Infrastructure. Today’s crumbling, inadequate infrastructure, especially in transportation, but also in areas such as utilities ranging from safe drinking water to high-speed internet, take a daily toll on America. 
Improve the American systems of education and health to assure that all Americans have an opportunity to realize their full potential, both for personal development, and to assure that America has a healthy, well-trained workforce that is second to none. 
Improve America’s social safety net. Special attention should be given to assisting workers most adversely affected by increased competition from abroad to prepare for, find and take new jobs that are well paying. 
Preserve America’s right to maintain its rule of law for the well-being of all American people. Protect them from decisions of private international tribunals that could over-rule our nation’s laws, thereby creating possible environmental damage, health hazards, monopolistic competition, and national security weakness. 
Preserve America’s right to retain natural and man-made resources for the future of America – including, for example, production technology and other forms of intellectual property developed in America.


Trade that is balanced, fair, and growing on the basis of rules that are suitable to the realities of the 21st century should form the core of America’s international trade policy for the future. Externally-focused measures to accomplish this should be supported by domestic policies focused on preparing America to compete successfully in global trade and improve the quality of life for all Americans.

Rev. 9/19/2016

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