America is back: We need a trade agenda that shows it

America is back: We need a trade agenda that shows it
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America is back on the world stage. That’s the theme President Biden repeatedly hit during his first international trip this month, and throughout his first several months in office. That tune resonates with American business leaders who have been calling urgently for U.S. global leadership and partnership with allies to address the global pandemic, climate challenges, cyber risks, and other threats to our economic security.

But what about trade? The major challenges that require U.S. leadership also require a rethink of trade policies to break down trade barriers, keep markets open and create jobs. In the face of the pandemic, growing cyber vulnerabilities and ecological risks, trade can be an essential tool to address critical global challenges — and the administration must take action.

With the flashy announcements spurred by the G7 summit and U.S.-EU Leaders’ summit now in the rearview mirror, will the administration be willing to advocate forcefully for the benefits of trade as they take on the tough challenges ahead? Despite some important and welcome progress in Cornwall, trade has not been a priority focus for the Biden administration. 

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The United States notched some important wins at the G7 and U.S.-EU Leaders’ Summit — particularly resolution of 16-year-old old large civil aircraft disputes and suspension of associated tariffs — and set the stage for future work on trade and technology. Progress on these issues is sorely needed to ensure a robust recovery from the pandemic and enhance U.S. competitiveness. But the announcements at these summits may, in hindsight, look like the easy part. 

For the Biden administration, pandemic response is the first order of business. G7 participants pledged to deliver an additional one billion vaccines to the developing world by the end of 2022, with half coming from the United States. The rationale is clear: economic recovery won’t happen without a massive global vaccination campaign harnessing the combined power of the private sector and governments around the globe. But to accelerate global production, the administration has taken the wrong approach in its embrace of intellectual property waivers for vaccines. This will not only undermine confidence in vaccine safety and efficacy, it will handicap American innovation and capacity to address future health crises.

Addressing China’s unfair trade practices continues to weigh on the minds of global leaders. The G7 brought pledges to enhance cooperation on investment screening and calls for a task force on infrastructure finance to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. While more trade infrastructure is a positive development, it has to be done sustainably and should not be captive to one nation. In addition, trade ministers vowed to tackle forced labor, a serious concern without easy answers. The Biden administration must expedite decision-making on China policy and continue its consensus building work with global partners, providing guidance for the thousands of American businesses who operate in or source from China.

With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) on the horizon, world leaders promised this week to cut emissions by approximately half by 2030. Those pledges will require the business community to drive the development and financing of solutions that can power economic growth worldwide while mitigating emissions. The administration must advance policies that encourage this innovation and investment not just domestically, but in multilateral negotiations.

The United States badly needs a forward-leaning, market opening trade agenda. We know the Biden administration can be a strong negotiator and problem-solver and has the capacity to lead coalitions to tackle trade barriers, subsidies and other market distorting practices. That work should start at home, with progress toward lifting the tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. To keep American businesses competitive, the United States will also need to lead on standard setting to protect cross-border data flows and develop common frameworks that safeguard both digital trade and privacy. The launch of a new Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council is a positive step and should be used as a mechanism to push back against European digital policies that discriminate against American companies, as well as the copycat laws that are starting to proliferate around the world. 

In sum, Biden has successfully scaled his first summits. But significant challenges lie ahead, and the speed of the global economic recovery will depend in part on the administration’s choices in the next several months. Without progress on trade and an understanding of the benefits it can deliver for American jobs and competitiveness, we will not realize the prosperity that the administration rightly wants for every American.

Myron Brilliant is the executive vice president and head of International Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He leads the largest international affairs team of any U.S. business association, representing the Chamber and its members before the U.S. government, foreign governments, and international business organizations.