Combating the pandemic will be President-elect Joe Biden’s top priority upon taking office.
Biden will simultaneously focus on reviving the United States’ economy and restoring jobs.
Prioritizing trade and restoring U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific region must be part of this recovery agenda.
Foreign relations are top of mind for the experienced statesman. He’s already started mending relationships with European allies antagonized by President Donald Trump.
That’s the leadership America needs. But there’s much more to do.
Trade deals are tedious and politically troublesome. But they’re necessary to restore jobs and sustain the manufacturing revival Trump advanced and Biden vowed to expand.
State leaders must help restore this sector and support trade policies that make it viable. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., should play a major role.
With Biden, working with our trading partners will “level the playing field to make sure businesses and workers in Washington state and across the nation can compete in our interconnected global economy,” she said in a statement.
Restarting factories has limited benefit if Biden and the rest of Congress dither on trade. To grow jobs and be sustainable, factories need customers to buy their products, and 95% of consumers are outside the U.S. Exporters also need fair access to markets and ways to address unfair competition.
The best game plan for Asia, the largest market, is on the shelf waiting for Biden.
That’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a hard-fought agreement drafted by the Obama administration to establish Pacific Rim trade rules, assert U.S. leadership and counter China’s growing influence.
President Obama couldn’t get TPP through Congress. After it was demonized by labor and xenophobes, Trump and Hillary Clinton abandoned it.
Concerns about losing jobs to overseas competitors are legitimate. Trade proponents, including Biden, must mitigate harms to affected workers and regions.
But America lost overall by abandoning TPP. U.S. income stood to grow $131 billion with TPP. Instead, it faces a $2 billion loss under a version excluding the U.S., according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Trump thought he could go mano a mano instead of building coalitions. It didn’t work. His approach to China, wielding tariffs in a unilateral trade war, is hurting U.S. companies and consumers, according to former Washington governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke.
“It’s making the cost of products we use in our daily lives, or companies use as components in their manufacturing, much more expensive,” said Locke.
Meanwhile, Brazil is selling soybeans to China instead of the U.S., and Airbus is selling planes there instead of Boeing, he said.
“So many of our allies or the other partners of the TPP are able to export and sell their products among themselves at much lower costs than American goods,” Locke told this editorial board.
Locke said Biden should pursue TPP, slightly modified to reflect labor standards and other updates in the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade pact Congress approved in January.
Trump’s approach also prompted retaliatory tariffs. That’s been “quite damaging” to Washington’s fruit industry, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.
Powers said TPP is a longshot but remains valuable.
“It was a platform in the region to counter China and play by our rules and not China’s,” he said.
David Bachman, a University of Washington professor of international relations, questions whether Biden would commit political capital needed to get TPP through Congress.
Bachman suggests pursuing a new trade body to succeed the World Trade Organization, which isn’t working as promised and failed to address China’s unfair practices.
That should happen regardless of TPP. Biden will seek to rebuild trust in multilateral institutions such as WTO and NATO, said Nelson Dong, a trade expert and national security practice chair at the Dorsey & Whitney law firm in Seattle.
Dong said “there’s 1001 rational reasons” TPP should also be a Biden priority, but he’s skeptical it will happen without Democrats’ enthusiasm.
Those still doubting TPP’s value should consider what China is doing.
China saw TPP’s economic and strategic importance. So when the U.S. waffled, China assembled its own version. Called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, it’s scheduled to be signed by 15 nations this weekend.
China got its pact done before Biden takes office, and can potentially revive TPP and reassert U.S. leadership in the region.
Biden promised to bridge divides, restore the middle class and make America respected around the world again.
That can’t be done alone. It requires partnerships and multilateral agreements, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Our new president is uniquely qualified for this job, and Washington’s Congressional delegation should help him get it done.