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This Week In Trade

Trump, eyeing November, blasts Biden on trade and China, touts 'seven' new deals

Posted: September 08, 2020

With less than two months until election day, President Trump used a Labor Day appearance before the press at the White House to tie his trade policy agenda and record to what he claims is former Vice President Joe Biden's fealty to China -- a potential preview of how trade will be invoked as the race heats up this fall.

In an insult-laden and, often, factually inaccurate distillation of his record and thinking on trade, Trump said the U.S. was working on “seven major fair trade deals right now.” He again raised the prospect of “decoupling” from China. He falsely claimed the U.S. “never used to win anything” at the World Trade Organization until he came along. He falsely claimed the U.S. never took in “10 cents from China” -- until he came along and imposed tariffs.

Trump also said Biden “cheered China's rise as a great power” -- which he said makes him “a stupid person.”

The remarks came just ahead of the release of a new and lengthy web ad from Biden's campaign that claims Trump was “played” by China in the negotiations that led to a phase-one trade deal signed earlier this year. Trump said again on Monday that China was making large purchases of U.S. agricultural goods to satisfy the terms of that deal because “they know I'm not happy. That's why they're buying. And I talk about it because today is Labor Day, and it's a good to time talk about when we're being ripped off by countries. But nobody is even close to China.”

The ad and Trump's remarks suggest trade could again play an outsize role in presidential politics this fall, as it did four years ago. A preview could come on Thursday during a debate on trade and the election hosted by the ABCI Institute. It will feature Stephen Vaughn, general counsel in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative for the first two years of the Trump administration; and Jennifer Hillman, senior fellow senior fellow for trade and international political economy at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former World Trade Organization Appellate Body member. Hillman, notably, is also advising the Biden campaign.

Two key players in Congress last week pointed to election ramifications for Trade Promotion Authority -- due to expire next year -- and other policy issues.

“I think a lot of eyes are on Nov. 3rd with that,” Ways & Means trade subcommittee member Ron Kind (D-WI) told Inside U.S. Trade's Isabelle Icso. “There’s no question that many of us Dems have been disenchanted with President Trump’s trade agenda and his lack of respect working with Congress on crucial issues.”

“But of course,” Kind added, “if we have a new administration that comes in in January that is going to change the dynamics there.”

In a separate interview, subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said “There are things laid out in TPA that frankly have not been honored by the current administration,” and added that he hoped a new relationship between the administration and Congress would work out “in a way that meets our mutual objectives.”

Blumenauer also said last week that his panel this fall -- and, perhaps, in a “fairly active” lame-duck session -- would address a few expiring trade programs including the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, set to end on Sept. 30, as well as the Generalized System of Preferences and the current Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, both due to expire on Dec. 31.

The trade subcommittee on Thursday will hold a hearing to discuss the prospects for the CBTPA's renewal.

UK talks resume

While Trump did not list the seven new deals he said the U.S. was negotiating, one of them -- a possible agreement with the United Kingdom -- also could be affected by the election, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). He told reporters on Tuesday that a deal before the election is unlikely, and added that “If Biden is elected it might be put on hold until after Jan. 20 sometime but I expect that we will have an agreement.”

U.S. and UK negotiators resume talks this week, with a fifth round likely to begin in mid-October. Thornier issues are expected to be addressed in what one source familiar with the talks recently said could show where the two sides are on the “completeness” of a broad deal.

Jockeying in Geneva

World Trade Organization members this week will begin in earnest their winnowing of the eight-member director-general hopeful list to five candidates. Director-General Roberto Azevêdo left the post on Aug. 31. After two months of campaigning, the third and final phase of the selection process began on Monday. During that process, members will consult with the chairs of three key committees -- known as the troika -- in three rounds to identify the eventual consensus candidate.

After five are chosen and three withdraw, the troika will name a top two following more consultations. After that, if all goes as planned, a consensus candidate will emerge, possibly by Nov. 7 -- but some analysts have said the U.S. election could also affect the timing of the DG race.

Inside U.S. Trade's Hannah Monicken has interviewed all eight candidates (seven published interviews so far; a final piece, featuring her conversation with Liam Fox, will run this week).

Former U.S. Trade Representative and World Bank President Robert Zoellick joins former World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy on Thursday for a discussion about the future of the WTO hosted by WITA.

Events

The House and Senate return to action during a post-Labor Day week packed with trade-related events. Some highlights:

  • U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Tuesday afternoon will deliver remarks to Catholic University students via Zoom.
  • The Washington International Trade Association on Wednesday hosts Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) for a discussion of “American leadership on trade in the wake of COVID-19, how we can maintain an open and fair global trading system, and the role of the WTO.”
  • The International Trade Club of Chicago, with WITA's help, on Wednesday will host former Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg for a discussion about his new book, “Trade is Not a Four-Letter Word.” (Hochberg was named on Tuesday in a Reuters report about possible trade advisers to Joe Biden should he win in November.)
  • The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Wednesday holds a summit on “U.S.-China Relations in 2020: Enduring Problems and Emerging Challenges.”
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection will hold its four-day “trade week” summit virtually, beginning on Tuesday. Key panels include Tuesday's USMCA implementation session featuring officials from Mexico and Canada.
  • The Export-Import Bank this week will hold its annual conference -- virtually -- over three days, beginning on Wednesday. After opening remarks from bank President Kimberly Reed, the first keynote will be delivered by National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. He'll give way to a discussion on Ex-Im's Program on China and Transformational Exports that will include members of the House Republicans’ China Task Force: Reps. Andy Barr (KY), Anthony Gonzalez (OH) and Michael McCaul (TX).
  • Both Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow give keynotes on Wednesday as well.
  • CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America, along with the Inter-American Dialogue and the Organization of American States, will hold a virtual annual meeting over three days, beginning on Wednesday.
  •  The Los Angeles World Affairs Council and Town Hall on Friday will hold an online discussion with Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Martha Bárcena Coqui. -- Dan Dupont (ddupont@iwpnews.com)

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