The US must act now on trade and economic leadership in the Indo-Pacific and China
Former candidate Joe Biden once said, “As President, I will not enter into any new trade agreements until we have invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed in the global economy.”
While we agree that ensuring American businesses and workers can succeed in the global economy should be a priority, putting trade engagement on the backburner to focus solely on a damaging domestic agenda undermines our ability to strengthen U.S. competitiveness around the world. President Biden’s administration has established a moratorium on trade deals, failed to renew vital trade programs, and kept Congress in the dark on their feeble trade strategy. Meanwhile, Democrats continue to push their costly domestic agenda through Congress in a blur of chaos, disarray, and distraction while supply chains falter and inflation grows.
U.S. economic challenges and trade silence mean one thing to China: opportunity. Over the past year, China has maneuvered to establish itself as a superior trade and economic leader on the global stage and most importantly, in the Indo-Pacific region. Comprised of many nations and partners, the Indo-Pacific is home to dynamic economies, crucial supply chains, and critical manufacturing and defense hubs. It represents one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
As members of the Ways and Means Committee, we recognize the immediate and long-term consequences of America sitting on its hands, while China moves ahead in the Indo-Pacific and throughout the world. Free trade means jobs and economic opportunities for our constituents in Illinois and West Virginia. We must work to ensure high global standards in trade agreements that protect not only American trade and economic interests and values, but also our national security interests. This is why we have introduced the U.S. Trade Leadership in the Indo-Pacific and China Act to ensure the Biden administration is required by Congress to act and report on a comprehensive trade strategy with the Indo-Pacific region and with China.
Our bill instructs President Biden to assert U.S. trade leadership in the Indo-Pacific, as this will strengthen American competitiveness, putting our workers and businesses in the best position to compete globally and protect global trade norms and standards abroad. The bill establishes congressional intent and support for new or updated trade programs and authorities, as well as consideration of updating and modernizing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Our bill also ensures Congress has robust and necessary access to information on the progress of the administration’s trade and economic negotiations in the Indo-Pacific. Most importantly, it requires American trade leaders to develop a comprehensive, responsible, and long-term trade and economic plan on China, including any further Phase One implementation efforts or consideration for a Phase Two agreement.
With Phase One trade expiring next year, the Biden White House has given no acceptable guidance regarding a long-term economic and trade plan with, or without, China. Instead, they continue a wait-and-see approach with an onerous review process that is harming U.S. market access and opportunities for our constituents.
The administration has failed to work with Congress to reauthorize critical trade tools, such as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which establishes trade negotiation objectives and enables engagement on reciprocal trade agreements. This lack of action, on top of President Biden’s decision to place a moratorium on trade agreements, signals to our allies and competitors that the U.S. is not open for business and is failing to lead the way to create and ensure global standards compliance and support our allies in the trade economy.
As the Biden administration continues to drag its feet, China has swiftly moved to fill the void by applying to three regional trade programs: CPTPP, the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). While there are legitimate doubts that China will meet the standards to the join the CPTPP and others, it’s a notable move by Beijing to demonstrate the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions to assert economic leadership and eclipse the United States in the region.
The trade strategy established by the Trump administration ushered in a new and complex trade relationship between the United States and China, with oversight of Chinese actions and fulfillment of trade commitments. The use of tariffs to bring China to the table were an effective tool at the time but were not designed as a permanent remedy. We must continue to utilize policies such as the U.S.-China Phase One deal and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) as templates for future trade deals in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure continued benefits to U.S. businesses, workers, and consumers, and as an ongoing example of U.S. leadership in the region.
With a new administration, and new realities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the evolving power competition between the United States and China commands swift and decisive American leadership. The Indo-Pacific region will be the primary stage of this economic competition, and it is vital that the Biden administration wake up to this reality and move swiftly to seize this integral moment. With our legislation as a framework, we must solidify U.S. trade and economic superiority in the Indo-Pacific. The time is now to restart and ensure America’s lasting trade leadership, and our bill is the first step.
Carol D. Miller, a Republican, represents West Virginia’s Third District. Darin LaHood, a Republican, represents Illinois’ 18th District. Both Miller and LaHood serve on the House Ways and Means Committee.
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