The New Rules of the Road: A Progressive Approach to Globalization

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The emergence of trade as a top election issue shows that the economic and social costs imposed by our current trade policy model have reached a tipping point. For purveyors of the status quo, this is a crisis, as the inherent inequities in their approach to trade have finally surfaced. For those of us who have long recognized such inequities, the current moment presents an opportunity to craft a new model, a new set of “rules of the road.” Far from trying to set back the clock on globalization, it is only through this new, far more inclusive, non-corporate-centric approach that we can rebuild American support for expanded trade.

This will not occur by continuing to assert that, despite their experiences, those who perceive themselves and their communities as having been hurt by exposure to the forces of globalization are just plain wrong. Or that the next trade agreement will be the one that fixes everything. Or by offering the increasingly large portion of the population who find themselves on the losing side of the current rules some temporary adjustment assistance.

It will only change if we change the content of our trade agreements and, in turn, the process by which we negotiate them. The “new rules of the road” must reflect the economic realities and needs of a much broader group of stakeholders. Crucially, to achieve such rules will require much greater transparency and inclusiveness in the policymaking process, helping to ensure that the resulting substantive rules represent the needs of the majority. This memo focuses on the substantive and procedural changes needed to realize these goals.

Globalization will surely proceed apace. Neither Donald Trump, Brexit voters, nor anyone else can put that toothpaste back in the tube. Nor should they. It is through expanded trade that we seek new markets for U.S. products, expand the supply of goods and services, and provide emerging countries with opportunities to grow by trading with wealthy countries.

But trade and contemporary free trade agreements (FTAs) are far from synonymous. The recent U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) report on the “likely impacts” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) underscores that these agreements are not mainly about cutting tariffs to expand trade nor about jobs, growth, and incomes here in the United States. Rather, they’re about setting expansive rules that determine who wins and who loses.

For years, those advocating for the “winners” that have been able to capture the negotiating process essentially said to those hurt by the resulting agreements: “Don’t worry, this will be great for you too. And, hey, if it isn’t, we will make it all better with adjustment assistance and some training.” The hollowness of these false promises is finally evident to the broad electorate. The rules must be written for all the cars on the road, not just the Lamborghinis.

Our new framework starts from the premise that the current “trade” agreement process has been co-opted by corporate interests whose goal is to establish binding, enforceable global rules that protect their investments and profits. This corporate capture comes at the expense of both peoples’ rights to democratically govern their own affairs and the ability of sovereign governments to effectively enforce worker, consumer, and environmental safeguards.

What follows describes a new set of rules of the road, one that puts the economic needs of working families at its core while excising corporate, protectionist influences from the rules. Achieving such inclusive policies will require a new policymaking process to replace the current system of opaque negotiations, a system heavily influenced by hundreds of official corporate trade advisors while the Fast Track process limits Congress’ role and the public is largely shut out.