Democrats echo pres­i­dent on trade pol­icy

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - ERICA WERNER

WASH­ING­TON — Se­nate Democrats on Wed­nes­day of­fered a new set of trade poli­cies aimed at ap­peal­ing to work­ing-class vot­ers and re­gain­ing ad­van­tage on an issue that Don­ald Trump seized to great ef­fect dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Some of the Demo­cratic pro­pos­als sounded like talk­ing points straight from Trump, in­clud­ing rene­go­ti­at­ing a trade agree­ment with Mex­ico and Canada and strength­en­ing “Buy Amer­i­can” poli­cies.

De­spite Trump’s rhetoric on those is­sues, he’s taken lim­ited steps as pres­i­dent although he did for­mally pull the United States from a 12-na­tion Pa­cific Rim trade pact that was not re­ceiv­ing strong con­gres­sional sup­port.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is also con­sid­er­ing ways to pun­ish China for forc­ing U.S. com­pa­nies to share their tech­nol­ogy in re­turn for ac­cess to the Chi­nese mar­ket.

“The prob­lem is Pres­i­dent Trump has talked a good game and done vir­tu­ally noth­ing on trade but study it,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer of New York said at a news con­fer­ence with fel­low Demo­cratic se­na­tors from Penn­syl­va­nia, Wis­con­sin, In­di­ana and Michi­gan, all up for re-elec­tion next year in man­u­fac­tur­ing-de­pen­dent states Trump won in 2016.

“So we need action, and if Pres­i­dent Trump wants to work with us to get th­ese things done, good, be­cause we need a bet­ter deal for Amer­i­can work­ers,” Schumer said.

Trade had been seen as an area where Trump and con­gres­sional Democrats could work to­gether be­cause Trump is more aligned with Democrats on the issue than with the tra­di­tional Repub­li­can free-trade ap­proach. But such co­op­er­a­tion has not ma­te­ri­al­ized as Trump and Democrats have been re­luc­tant to work to­gether on any­thing at all, ex­cept when strictly nec­es­sary.

The trade poli­cies Democrats an­nounced Wed­nes­day were the sec­ond roll­out in their new “Bet­ter Deal” agenda, which House and Se­nate Democrats are propos­ing ahead of the 2018 elec­tions. Last week, Democrats pre­sented their over­all agenda and made pub­lic the first three planks, which fo­cused on cre­at­ing more jobs, crack­ing down on cor­po­rate mo­nop­o­lies and low­er­ing pre­scrip­tion drug prices.

On trade, Democrats pro­posed an Amer­i­can Jobs Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to re­view and po­ten­tially halt for­eign pur­chases of U.S. com­pa­nies. Chi­nese state-owned en­ter­prises are in­creas­ingly en­ter­ing U.S. mar­kets by pur­chas­ing Amer­i­can com­pa­nies, but the re­verse doesn’t usu­ally hap­pen be­cause of re­stric­tions in China on U.S. in­vest­ments, Democrats said.

Democrats also en­vi­sion a new “in­de­pen­dent trade pros­e­cu­tor” em­pow­ered to in­ves­ti­gate un­fair trade prac­tices out­side the un­wieldy World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion process and to rec­om­mend re­tal­i­a­tion in the form of re­stric­tions to U.S. mar­ket ac­cess.

Democrats called for rene­go­ti­at­ing the Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton-era North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment in­volv­ing the U.S., Mex­ico and Canada, with the goal of achiev­ing more Amer­i­can jobs, higher wages and en­force­able la­bor stan­dards. Trump has called for rene­go­ti­at­ing NAFTA, a deal he cease­lessly crit­i­cized as a can­di­date. A cou­ple of weeks ago, his ad­min­is­tra­tion out­lined its goals for do­ing so, some of which over­lap with the Democrats’ ideas.

The Democrats called for new tax rules to pun­ish com­pa­nies that ship jobs over­seas and for strength­en­ing “Buy Amer­i­can” pro­vi­sions in tax­payer-funded projects. Trump, too, has harped on the “Buy Amer­i­can” theme even as it’s been re­vealed that some of his own prod­ucts and those mar­keted by his daugh­ter Ivanka’s fash­ion line were man­u­fac­tured in other coun­tries.

Over­all, the Democrats’ trade pro­pos­als un­der­scored the in­flu­ence of the party’s lib­eral wing in push­ing it in a pop­ulist di­rec­tion that re­jects multi­na­tional trade deals in fa­vor of more pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies that el­e­vate U.S. work­ers’ in­ter­ests. The pro­pos­als also are a re­ac­tion to Trump’s suc­cess last year in Rust Belt states and other ar­eas where his tough talk on trade and claims that Amer­i­can work­ers have got­ten a raw deal ap­pealed strongly to vot­ers.

Yet data are mixed on the ef­fect of trade deals on U.S. work­ers. Ex­perts point to other fac­tors, such as tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, that have con­trib­uted to job losses and shut­tered fac­to­ries in one­time man­u­fac­tur­ing strongholds.

AP/MANUEL BALCE CENETA

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, with fel­low Demo­cratic se­na­tors Bob Casey of Penn­syl­va­nia and Deb­bie Stabenow of Michi­gan, said Wed­nes­day that “Pres­i­dent Trump has talked a good game and done vir­tu­ally noth­ing on trade but study it.”

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