Levin: Trade angst spans well beyond testy election-year politics

A top House Democrat said Wednesday that the broiling public debate over trade spans well beyond the toxic election-year rhetoric.

Rep. Sander Levin (Mich.), ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, said U.S. trade policy relies too heavily on outdated doctrine to sell global agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the peril of economic growth and the livelihoods of workers.

{mosads}“This present predicament we have with trade isn’t just an election-year phenomena,” Levin said during a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is a history to this, a history of over reliance on outdated doctrines and also the notion more trade is just better and problems with trade agreements will work themselves out over time,” he said 

To remedy the problem, trade advocates should do a better job of ensuring the benefits of global agreements are more widely shared, requiring a fresh look at the overall policy, Levin said. 

“Those who believe in expanded trade have a responsibility to try to craft agreements that really are going to address the basic aspirations of workers in this country as well as corporations,” Levin said. 

Levin, along with other congressional Democrats, has urged the International Trade Commission, which analyzes the economic benefits of trade deals, to take a deeper dive into the effects of U.S. trade policy on the nation’s workers. 

“People want to know what it’s going to mean for my pursuit, what’s it going to mean for my livelihood,” Levin said. “That’s what people want and in a democracy we should respect that,” he said.

“And if we don’t we leave openings for people who have either demagoguery or total disbelief in the benefits of globalization. That’s the challenge that we face.”

Trade has been a lightning rod in the presidential campaign with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump sparring over the issue during Monday night’s debate. 

Both candidates have railed against the direction of U.S. trade policy on the campaign trail, and oppose the TPP between the United States and 11 other nations. 

President Obama is urging Congress to pass the TPP agreement during a lame-duck session after the November elections. 

But Levin said the prospects aren’t good for the deal, which is opposed by a majority of congressional Democrats.

“If TPP were brought up on a lame-duck I think that’d be a mistake and I think it would fail,” Levin said.

“And I also think it would send the wrong message instead of having a fresh look to try to push that through and I don’t think it would succeed,” he said.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) shares Levin’s sentiment on the TPP’s chances of passing this year. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Ryan told the Economic Club of Washington that he neither sees enough votes for TPP nor any way for the White House to resolve the pact’s problems before year’s end.

Meanwhile, the nation’s political battle over how to craft better trade policy comes at a time when global growth is braking.

On Tuesday, the World Trade Organization reported that trade growth this year expanded at just a 1.7 percent rate, well below the forecast of 2.8 percent.

Global growth is only expected to reach 2.2 percent this year, the slowest pace of trade and output growth since the financial crisis in 2008.

“The dramatic slowing of trade growth is serious and should serve as a wake-up call,” said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo.

“It is particularly concerning in the context of growing anti-globalization sentiment,” he said.

The forecast for 2017 also has been revised with trade now expected to grow between 1.8 percent and 3.1 percent, down from 3.6 percent previously.

“We need to make sure that this does not translate into misguided policies that could make the situation much worse, not only from the perspective of trade but also for job creation and economic growth and development which are so closely linked to an open trading system,” Azevêdo said. 

“We should seek to build a more inclusive trading system that goes further to support poorer countries to take part and benefit, as well as entrepreneurs, small companies, and marginalised groups in all economies,” he said.

“This is a moment to heed the lessons of history and recommit to openness in trade, which can help to spur economic growth.”

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Paul Ryan Roberto Azevêdo Sander Levin Trans-Pacific Partnership World Trade Organization
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