In Vietnam this past week, Trump elaborated upon his frustrations with the current structure of international trade. He criticized past trade agreements for their exploitation of the United States, lamenting these agreements for disproportionately hurting the United States while prioritizing Asian interests.
In a classically America-centric speech, however, Trump did not blame the present Asian leadership, but posited that he would not let America be taken advantage of any longer. A far cry from his earlier condemnations of China for currency manipulation, among other trade violations, this backtracking quickly earned rebuke from Democratic leadership. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer publicly denounced Trump’s essential pardon of Chinese trade manipulations that have produced wide trade disparities between China and the United States.
And yet, Schumer’s empty criticism gave no alternatives to Trump’s equally vacant plans, highlighting a clear deficit in American politics at large: neither party supports a consistent, viable, and humane position on international trade.
In looking at the Democratic party platform, there is clear division that still has not been reconciled as of 2016. Take, for instance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the brainchild of Barack Obama — Democratic opposition to the policy, led by Bernie Sanders, articulated a defense of American workers’ interests. Conversely, its Democratic advocates posited that non-participation in the agreement would bar Democratic interests — and American interests, by extension — from having a say in some of the most formative discussions of international trade policy in the last decade.
That agreement, which sought to reduce tariffs between states involved in the partnership, is juxtaposed against Trump’s suggestions of increased tariffs and protectionism superficially — or at least on the campaign trail, a policy that now seems to be waning in the past week in Trump’s meetings with Asian leadership. However, whether Trump maintains his ideology of economic nationalism or not, Democrats need to form their own party platform that simultaneously addresses the needs of the working class that has seen the most tangible losses at the hands of globalization, while still engaging with the inevitable evolution of increased free trade agreements.
To begin, our trade deals are ubiquitously outdated, hardly touching big data or any real form of
data sharing, and failing to adapt to the constantly technologically changing marketplace. Indeed, many technologically driven marketplaces that have formed in the decades since some of these trade agreements were made have essentially no governance or language in international mandates, leaving these agreements outdated by years and years, and rendering them impotent in many international marketplaces.
Also, to say that the American government should remove itself entirely from many of these negotiations, as Bernie had suggested, is a naive and unsubstantiated stance that would prevent American say in necessary trade discussions. If Americans do not ensure a seat at the table of international discussion, the rules of modern global trade will be made without American interests at stake.
International trade policy, contrary to apparent Democratic understandings, actually presents itself as a critical and necessary opportunity for Democrats to not reject all trade discussion, but to ensure that such agreements are made with recognition of the working class in America, and an effort domestically to offset these costs. While many of the jobs lost to the globalization are unrestorable, the necessity of new educational and training programs for disenfranchised workers could easily become a crux of Democratic trade policy, working to offset employment externalities of international trade through domestically led programs.
Thus, Democrats need to form some sort of coherent plan to not only remain engaged in, but also to lead the global discussion of newly forming trade deals, while not neglecting those Americans who will be hurt in the process. Global cooperation is unavoidable, and the continued proliferation of globalization is something that Democrats need to address sooner rather than later, and to their advantage: a constructive message about making trade deals at large better for the United States can be made inclusive to all classes, with the right communications strategy and policy layout.
Trump’s proposed isolationism and economic nationalism is not productive, and while it rhetorically appeals to his supporters, is not a sustainable, long-term solution to the current trends of globalization. But the Democrats — and non-isolationist Republicans — need to vocally step into this vacancy and provide tangible solutions for those groups that will be negatively impacted in the process. This needs to be done while working to make trade and global cooperation better for the United States at large in a humane and productive set of trade policies.
ERIN FARRELL is a College junior and the Penn Democrats communication director.
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