Joe Biden barely mentioned trade in his nomination acceptance speech last night. That’s a relief.
Discussing trade policy during campaign season is a fool’s errand. Candidates rarely say what they think about trade and instead pander to voters’ emotions at that moment. Yet, let us indulge.
As the former vice president spoke Thursday night, he kept with the tradition. His only mention of trade tapped into present-day American emotions, which are ridden with anxiety and fear related to the pandemic and economic fallout. Biden assured us, “We’ll develop and deploy rapid tests with results available immediately. We’ll make the medical supplies and protective equipment our country needs. And we’ll make them here in America. So, we will never again be at the mercy of China and other foreign countries in order to protect our own people.”
In other words, the Biden campaign has the same “America First” sentiment that we have been hearing from the Trump Administration, but with less vitriolic and baseless statements about how US trade policy has destroyed our country, our economy, and our people.
Biden’s record shows he walks the line between his support for union-backed protectionism and for trade policy that expands market access for US firms around the world.
Not only did Biden not mention trade much, he did not respond to Trump’s criticisms, either. For instance, Trump claims that Biden’s embrace of globalization has ruined Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania. But the office of Trump’s own trade representative states clearly on its website that “Pennsylvania depends on world markets.” As for all those awful trade agreements, again, USTR touts that nearly half of Pennsylvania’s exports go to our free trade agreement partners.
Donald Trump is the only candidate in my lifetime who actually did what he promised on trade – pull us out of trade agreements and slap on far-reaching tariffs. He delivered on those campaign promises to our detriment. And then he did more, to our further detriment.
Biden says he will work with our allies. Let’s hope if elected he delivers on that because our pressing trade issues like WTO reform can only be solved with cooperation with our allies. But that should be the easy part. Harder questions will be waiting for the next administration, many related to an encroaching China. The tech wars, free speech, and extra territoriality are new problems that need to be tackled creatively.
Biden’s relative silence on trade issues does not bother me. The data and USTR’s fact sheets speak for themselves. The trade problems that need to be solved are way beyond campaign rhetoric.