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Biden Trade Agenda Takes Aim at China, Enforcement and Made in America

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) delivered President Biden’s 2021 Trade Agenda to Congress on Tuesday, detailing a comprehensive trade policy in support of the administration’s effort to help the U.S. recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and refocus and reform policies for global and domestic commerce.

A key policy agenda is “addressing China’s coercive and unfair economic trade practices through a comprehensive strategy.” USTR said the Biden administration recognizes that China’s trade policies harm U.S. workers, threaten America’s technological edge, weaken its supply-chain resiliency and undermine national interests.

“The Biden administration is committed to using all available tools to take on the range of China’s unfair trade practices that continue to harm U.S. workers and businesses,” the report said. “It will also make it a top priority to address the widespread human rights abuses of the Chinese government’s forced labor program that targets the Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and elsewhere in the country.”

Along with pursuing strong enforcement to ensure that China lives up to its existing trade obligations, USTR said the administration will also seek to collaborate with allies to address global market distortions created by industrial overcapacity. Key sectors range from steel and aluminum to fiber optics, solar and other sectors where the Chinese government has been a key contributor.

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The president’s agenda aims to create “millions of good-paying jobs and support America’s working families” by tackling four national challenges–building a stronger industrial and innovation base so the future is made in America; building sustainable infrastructure and a clean energy future; building a stronger economy, and advancing racial equity across the board.

Biden “wants a fair international trading system that promotes inclusive economic growth and reflects America’s universal values,” the report said. “Trade policy must respect the dignity of work and value Americans as workers and wage-earners, not only as consumers.” The agenda, it added, “will restore U.S. global leadership by combatting forced and exploitative labor conditions, corruption and discrimination against women and minorities around the world.”

Through bilateral and multilateral engagement, the Biden administration will aim to build consensus around trade policies that address the climate crisis, bolster sustainable renewable energy supply chains, level the playing field, discourage regulatory arbitrage, and foster innovation and creativity, USTR said.

Naturally, a top priority of the trade agenda is to defeat Covid-19 and nurture an economic recovery. To that end, the Biden administration is focused on increasing vaccine production and distribution to ensure the population is vaccinated as quickly as possible. The trade agenda will support long-term investments to strengthen domestic production of essential medical equipment, expand industrial capacity and enhance preparation to tackle future public-health crises.

The trade agenda will also support the goal of ensuring that frontline workers have immediate access to necessary personal protective equipment and promote long-term supply chain resiliency for equipment and supplies critical to protecting public health in the U.S. Trade policy will also support the broader economic recovery by helping companies, including small businesses and entrepreneurs, put Americans to work by “building world-class products for export to foreign markets.”

The Biden-Harris trade policy stresses that trade “must protect and empower workers, drive wage growth and lead to better economic outcomes for all Americans.” The administration will review past trade policies for their impacts on and unintended consequences for workers.

“Workers will have a seat at the table as the Biden Administration develops new trade policies that promote equitable economic growth by including strong, enforceable labor standards in trade agreements that protect workers’ rights and increase economic security,” USTR said. “The administration will engage allies to secure commitments to fight forced labor and exploitative labor conditions, and increase transparency and accountability in global supply chains.”

As part of the trade agenda, the United States will work with other countries, both bilaterally and multilaterally, toward environmental sustainability and raising global climate ambition. This will include the negotiation and implementation of strong environmental standards that are critical to a sustainable climate pathway.

The trade agenda will support the administration’s comprehensive vision of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving net-zero global emissions by 2050, or before, by fostering U.S. innovation and production of climate-related technology and promoting resilient renewable energy supply chains.

The Biden administration is also committed to a trade agenda that ensures that the concerns and perspectives of Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and Native American workers, their families, and businesses are a cornerstone of proposed policies, USTR said.

“Through thoughtful, sustained, engagement and innovative data collection and sharing, the Biden administration will seek to better understand the projected impact of proposed trade policies on communities of color and will consider those impacts before pursuing such policies,” USTR said.

The president’s trade policies also include restoring U.S. leadership around the world and repairing partnerships and alliances.

“The United States will work with World Trade Organization’s (WTO) director-general, Okonjo-Iweala, and like-minded trading partners to implement necessary reforms to the WTO’s substantive rules and procedures to address the challenges facing the global trading system, including growing inequality, digital transformation, and impediments to small business trade,” USTR said. “The Administration will work with allies and like-minded trading partners to establish high-standard global rules to govern the digital economy, in line with our shared democratic values. Where gaps exist in international trade rules, the United States will work to address them, including through enhanced cooperation with our partners and allies.”

Strong trade enforcement is also essential to ensuring trading partners live up to their commitments and that U.S. trade policy benefits American workers, manufacturers, farmers, businesses, families and communities. The trade agenda will include comprehensive enforcement of trade agreements, including their labor and environmental standards, the report said.

The administration will also consider new ways to address the suppression of wages and workers’ rights in other countries to the detriment of U.S. workers. Although unilateral action may be necessary in some instances, President Biden will prioritize working on trade enforcement with friends and allies and pursue meaningful change for U.S. workers and businesses in the global trading landscape, USTR said.