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back to index backAMERItalk November,  2016


The Trans-Pacific Partnership and U.S. Trade Policy

Introduction

The post–World War II era has seen the dramatic growth of international trade and the creation of a global trading framework based on the principle of open economies. The United States has been at the forefront of these changes even as it is less reliant on trade than nearly any other developed country.

With global trade talks stalling, the United States has turned to regional and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). Having won the passage of FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, President Barack Obama is now struggling to finalize the Asia-centered Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he heralds as a next generation” trade agreement. Opposition to the TPP and a similar deal with Europe has come from many in the U.S. labor movement, as well as some economists, who argue that trade agreements in their current form hurt workers, degrade the U.S. manufacturing base, and exacerbate income inequality. Advocates counter that FTAs create jobs by opening new markets to U.S. exports and making it easier for U.S. companies to compete in foreign markets.

What is the state of U.S. trade policy?

The institutions of global trade policy have evolved dramatically since the end of World War II, led primarily by the United States and its European allies. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by twenty-three countries in October 1947. By 1986, GATT’s membership had expanded to 123 countries, all of which had committed to the principles of lower tariffs, open economies, and freer trade. Over those four decades, global import tariffs on goods fell sharply, from an average of over 30 percent to under 5 percent.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan launched the Uruguay Round of negotiations, which created the World Trade Organization (WTO), an agreement finalized under President Bill Clinton in 1994. The WTO was created to address the perceived limitations of the GATT system. World trade had grown increasingly complex since the 1940s, and GATT’s narrow focus on goods left out major areas such as trade in services, agriculture, intellectual property, and cross-border investment.

However, the latest round of negotiations—launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, and dubbed the Development Agenda” due to its focus on topics of particular interest to poorer countries—has so far failed to achieve a final deal despite over a decade of talks. Agriculture policy has been the primary sticking point, with large developing countries like India and China seeking to retain flexibility in imposing import tariffs—so-called safeguard duties”—while pushing for reduced farm subsidies in the United States and Europe.

The Current State of U.S. Free Trade Agreements

Facing a stalled WTO process, U.S. policymakers have focused instead on completing smaller regional and bilateral trade and investment deals. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) further integrated the U.S. economy with those of Canada and Mexico. In addition to recent bilateral deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, the United States has concluded free trade agreements (FTAs) with seventeen other countries. Most recently, in 2015 U.S. negotiatiors concluded talks on a pending Asia-Pacific deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

To read entire article, please click here.

Source: Council on Foreign Relations - GAI





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