The Biden Administration Releases its Trade Policy Agenda

By Matthew McMullan
Mar 03 2021 |
The office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington, DC. | Getty Images

Meanwhile, another cabinet secretary with a big role to play in economic policy is confirmed.

On Monday, the Biden administration’s Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released the 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report.

A product mandated by the Trade Act of 1974, the USTR uses the report to examine the current standing of trade agreements with dozens of countries. It also reviews recent trade enforcement activities, and lists its priorities on topics like labor rights, intellectual property protection, digital trade, trade of manufactured goods, and agricultural trade. There’s also a chapter that reviews U.S. participant activity at the World Trade Organization.

The whole thing is like 300 pages long, with no action scenes, like the big truck chase from 1980’s The Road Warrior, which is a great movie, possibly the greatest, full stop. Anyway, the accompanying fact sheet – which is basically a rewording of the report’s introduction – is a little more digestible.

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This is an important document because, boiled down, it’s a big values statement. What’s included in it reflects political priorities, and the way that arguments are made in it reflect corresponding policy positions. For example, Todd Tucker of the Roosevelt Institute noted this on Twitter:

the whole thread is worth a read

President Biden has vowed to be a pro-worker president, and the rhetoric is showing up in his administration’s trade policy papers.

Putting all of this rhetoric into action will depend on the people he puts in charge to do it. That includes Gina Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island who today was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in a 84-15 Senate vote. Raimondo worked in venture capital before getting elected to public office in 2010, and has earned support from manufacturers in her state for her work on stuff like small-business research and development grants and apprenticeship programs.

As the new Commerce secretary, Raimondo will inherit issues like the maintenance of a technology export ban list on which former President Donald Trump’s Commerce Department placed Chinese companies like Huawei and Hikvision. And the Washington Post notes she also “must resolve questions about the future of Trump administration regulations restricting U.S. companies’ reliance on Chinese suppliers of telecommunications hardware and software.” This will tie in directly with the Biden administration’s stated goals of building domestic manufacturing supply chains for industries it’s deemed critical, like semiconductor chip fabrication.

She’s also going to be responsible for the maintenance of the broad steel import tariffs that were raised in 2018. The Biden administration has said it is reviewing them. The Alliance for American Manufacturing thinks they should not be lowered unilaterally, damaging an industry on shaky footing in a pandemic economy.

Secretary Raimondo will have a large role to play in the economic recovery the administration hopes to accomplish with its Build Back Better plan. Another important figure is Katherine Tai, who’s expected to be confirmed as the USTR in a vote on Wednesday. Read more about her here.