Biden Administration Lays Out Trade Priorities for 2023

By Matthew McMullan
Mar 03 2023 |
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A new U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) report says the administration is “placing workers and everyday people at the center of our trade policy.”

The office of the U.S. Trade Representative on Wednesday released the Biden administration’s 2023 Trade Policy Agenda and 2022 Annual Report to Congress.

What’s in it?

Man, more like what’s not in it. This thing is more than 350 pages! There’s a list of acronyms, a couple of annexes, and a bunch of those blank pages that official documents always include.

Its comprehensive in its descriptions and defenses of the Biden administration’s trade policy. And it lists no new trade deals under negotiation, which has been a point of contention among its critics who argue that trade policy should basically be the pursuit of new markets.

That’s not what the Biden trade policy has been about so far, and this document makes clear the administration is not about to change course. As dry as this report may be, in it you’ll find the Biden administration forcefully defending and making the case for its approach to trade, which it calls “worker-centered.”

“By placing workers and everyday people at the center of our trade policy, the Biden Administration will continue to use trade as a force for good, to build a durable and fair tomorrow by pursuing resilience, sustainability, and inclusive prosperity,” the report says.

It does its best to show how it’s accomplishing this. For example, it points to efforts made to catalog and understand the way recent trade policy has affected underrepresented and under-served domestic communities, like the series of roundtables it held last year to gather comments and feedback.

This “worker-centered” approach has yielded more tangible results, too. For example, the administration last year used enforcement tools in existing trade deals to go after labor rights violations in partner countries. Here’s how it describes one such enforcement – made possible because of a mechanism built into the USMCA – against an auto parts manufacturer stepping on its workers in northern Mexico:

In April 2022, Mexican labor union Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y de Servicios Movimiento 20/32 (SNITIS) and a U.S.-based policy organization filed an RRM petition concerning Panasonic Automotive Systems, an automotive parts producer in Reynosa, Mexico. The petition alleged that workers at the Reynosa facility were being denied the right of free association and collective bargaining. At the United States’ request, the facility took several actions, including renouncing a collective bargaining agreement it had signed with a union that lacked lawful bargaining authority; reimbursing workers for dues the company had deducted from workers’ paychecks on that union’s behalf; offering reinstatement and backpay to twenty-six workers who were allegedly terminated for participating in union activity; and reimbursing workers for wages unpaid as a result of a work stoppage at the facility. SNITIS has since won a representation election at the facility and negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that includes a substantial wage increase.

It’s not entirely about labor rights, though. The administration is also arguing that trade diplomacy is an avenue to achieve environmental goals, and says it plans to continue negotiating a new,” emissions-based” agreement with the European Union that will govern the steel and aluminum sectors, which are typically very energy-intensive.

From the report:

This will be a paradigm-shifting model that drives decarbonization while limiting anti-competitive and non-market practices that contribute to worldwide excess capacity. It will drive investment in green steel and aluminum production in the United States, Europe, and around the world, reducing emissions in two of the most carbon-intensive industrial sectors and ensuring a competitive U.S. steel and aluminum industry for decades to come.

There’s plenty more to the U.S.-EU trade relationship, of course, and another noteworthy facet of it is the ongoing discussions about the EU’s (unfounded) complaints about the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – ad the U.S. green industrial policy bill that funds consumer incentives for North American-built electric vehicles (EVs). Those talks are actually continuing right now; the EU trade chief was just in Washington and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will be there shortly to meet with President Biden. She’s expected to make the case for qualifying EU EVs for those IRA incentives.

And there’s an entire section devoted to the U.S. trade relationship with China, which figures: Even as relations between our two countries become more politically tense, an incredible amount of bilateral trade still takes place. Here’s some of what it has to say:

The Biden Administration is taking a holistic and pragmatic approach to our relationship grounded in the principles of our worker-centered trade policy.

It starts with the groundbreaking domestic investments enacted through the President’s leadership, which allow the United States to engage and compete with China from a position of strength. This includes, for example, repairing our roads and bridges through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, bolstering our capacity for critical technologies through the CHIPS and Science Act, and manufacturing clean energy technology here at home and in that of free trade partners through the Inflation Reduction Act. In addition, we are taking steps to build supply chain resilience that will defend American workers and consumers from the harms wrought by China’s trade and economic abuses. We are also considering all existing tools—and will potentially seek new ones as needed—to combat the harms of China’s state-led, non-market practices.

Critically, we are bringing renewed focus to engagement with our partners and allies, who also suffer harm from China’s unfair trade and economic practices. We share values and an essential interest in fair, market-based competition. The ability to defend against unfair Chinese practices requires that market economies act in concert to confront policies and practices that are fundamentally at odds with a global trading system based on market competition.

This is just a selection of topics covered in this big policy document. It also includes discussion of a review of the Section 301 tariffs facing hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports; the ongoing negotiation of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework with 13 other Pacific-rim countries; and the ongoing dispute the U.S. is raising with Canada about market access for American dairy products.

If you want to read all about this and a lot more, download the report here.