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OPINION | COLUMNISTS: Why isn't the White House making free trade more a priority?

by TORI K. SMITH AND ANTHONY KIM TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE | July 23, 2021 at 3:08 a.m.

RIP, Trade Promotion Authority. The law that allowed Congress to fast-track consideration of trade agreements expired on July 1. Trade agreements will now be subject to regular order in Congress, making it more difficult for the Biden administration to enter any new pacts.

Not that the administration seems concerned about it. President Joe Biden never bothered to formally request a renewal of Trade Promotion Authority, a customary act for past administrations. His inaction signals that trade agreements are not even on the agenda.

Congress can advance a new TPA bill (which should include robust reforms to the process) without an ask from the White House. But even if it did, it's not clear that the president would use the authority.

Last December Biden declared, "I'm not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers and in education." Not much incentive for congressional action in that statement.

If not through new trade agreements, how will the Biden administration advance free trade?

Last month, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration intends to view trade "through the lens of 'Build Back Better'," rather than pursue "clean" free trade agreements. Clearly the administration hopes to exercise its executive powers to regulate and control trade flows in ways that will advance items higher on its agenda.

To be fair, the administration has taken some important steps to de-escalate trade disputes with some allies. It signed five-year deals with the European Union and the United Kingdom that eliminate retaliatory tariffs arising from a decades-long airline subsidy dispute.

Tai also announced an agreement with the EU on steel and aluminum tariffs, forestalling further retaliation while the two sides negotiate a resolution to the dispute the U.S. started in 2018.

These deals don't fully eliminate the relevant trade barriers, but they do temporarily prevent further tariff increases and make steps to mend trade relations with U.S. allies.

With these few efforts, the Biden administration is only scratching the surface of the benefits available through free trade. Trade liberalization creates and adds value, capitalizes on competitive advantages, and further harnesses the power of freedom and choice. Advancing trade freedom is critical, especially as Americans are recovering from the pandemic.

If the administration is unwilling to fully embrace free trade, Congress should take a more active role in setting and executing a growth- oriented trade agenda. They can start with aggressively cutting tariffs on all manufactured goods, renewing and expanding trade preference programs, and advancing TPA legislation that ensures that trade agreements focus solely on eliminating barriers to trade.


Tori K. Smith is the Jay Van Andel Trade Economist in The Heritage Foundation's Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Anthony Kim is the research manager and editor of the think tank's annual Index of Economic Freedom.

Print Headline: Free trade isn't a priority now

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