Biden’s New Trade Deal: Less Than Meets the Eye – The American Prospect

by admin on May 22, 2022


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Evan Vucci/AP Photo

President Joe Biden, right, meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace, May 23, 2022, in Tokyo.

Meeting in Tokyo with leaders of Japan, India, and ten other countries at a high-profile launch event, President Biden announced the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. IPEF is billed both as a regional economic alliance with friendly Asian nations to counter the influence of China, and as a more planning-friendly alternative to Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

TPP was a corporate-driven, sweetheart trade deal masquerading as China containment. Trump pulled the U.S. out of that deal in 2017. But as a counter to TPP, the devil is in IPEF’s details. And despite the fanfare, most details have yet to be negotiated.

A core problem is how the U.S. and its trading partners reconcile the mantra of more trade with Biden’s commitment to dealing with the supply chain crisis via industrial policies and reshoring. The partner nations would like the U.S. to lower tariffs, but that is a nonstarter. Industrial policy is not free trade.

More from Robert Kuttner

IPEF, according to the administration, is built on four “pillars”: cooperation on digital trade; more resilient supply chains; increasing sources of clean energy; and having common tax, anti–money laundering, and anti-bribery measures. But unlike TPP, which was a regional deal with common provisions, IPEF takes an à la carte approach. Countries can decide which areas they want to join; and not all deals with all participating countries will be the same. This is the opposite of a multilateral agreement, the traditional grail of free-traders.

The devil is especially in the details when it comes to “cooperation on digital trade.” Big Tech sees this as a chance to use trade to undermine domestic regulation of privacy and anti-monopoly regulation.

And 5 of the 12 countries that have been enlisted as partners in IPEF have dismal records on labor and human rights—the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Indonesia. Allowing supply chain exports of these countries expedited entry into the U.S. because they sign on to other parts of the deal but don’t change their labor practices would make a travesty of Biden’s commitment to establishing a new model of worker-centered trade.

All of these issues and more will be the subject of intensive bargaining—not just among the U.S. and its trading partners but among different agencies of the Biden administration that are less, or more, captive to corporate interests. For instance, the lead negotiator from the Commerce Department is Sharon Yuan, a big TPP enthusiast, an advocate of permanent normal trade relations with China back in the Clinton era, and former CEO of the Asia Group.

In today’s New York Times, David Leonhardt writes an effusive piece that begins: “Biden’s new trade deal is based on two big ideas: moving away from neoliberalism and containing China.” The deal does attempt to contain China. It remains to be seen just how far away from neoliberalism the deal moves.

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