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Biden Must Reverse Trump’s Protectionism

President Biden has a lot on his plate: a pandemic, an economy flattened by said pandemic, the damage done to our alliances by his predecessor, and the attempt to heal the domestic wounds his predecessor caused.

Understandably, that has led to a lot of  demands, as well as concerns about how those demands can be met while maintaining national comity and the concept of limited, democratic government. As it happens, however, there is one policy area where Biden can accomplish several of those things at once: switching America trade policy away from Trump’s protectionism and back to freer trade with democracies and allies.

Much of the focus of Trump’s trade policy fiascos has been on Communist China. Biden seems unwilling to change course there, which makes sense geopolitically (if not economically). Fortunately for Biden, there is a policy that would advance the cause of freedom and the nation’s economy: rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Biden hasn’t talked about TPP much [1], but he never did close the door on rejoining. At this early stage, even an expressed willingness to enter negotiations about what changes he would want to bring the US back in would be very helpful.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other areas where Biden can put Trump’s protectionism in the rear-view mirror.

Trump did not spare our allies or fellow democracies in his tariff binge. Numerous allies were slapped with aluminum and steel tariffs (PIIE [2]), solar panels, and washing machines (WaPo [3]). All of them led to higher prices for American consumers and firms that use these items as inputs or capital. Biden can engender good will with Americans and with everyone else by reversing them. As none involved Congressional approval, removing them would in fact reduce presidential power.

Additionally, Biden can advance the cause of global trade by simply getting out of the way of the World Trade Organization staffing. Trump repeatedly blocked the appointment of personnel at WTO, even to the point of refusing to support the appointment of a fellow American as head of the organization (Bloomberg [4]). Allowing the WTO to simply do its job in deciding trade disputes would be a major step forward.

These policies would not only be better for the American economy and for our geopolitical position; they’re also popular. Support for freer trade has reached record highs (NBC News [5]).

In the poll, 64 percent of Americans — including majorities of Democrats and Republicans — agree with the statement that free trade is good for America, because it opens up new markets, and the country can’t avoid the fact of a global economy.

In other words, Biden has the opportunity to move forward on a set of policies that would not expand but in face reduce government power, would benefit America economically, would help repair frayed alliances, and is supported by most Democrats and Republicans.

It is not an opportunity he should miss.