As last night’s Democratic candidates’ debate underscored, the gains of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal are at best modest. But it was a political win for Trump.
First, it split the Democratic field. Second, the deal enlisted the support of the AFL-CIO, signaling Trump was delivering for American workers, even though the gains were pitifully small and did nothing to prevent the continuing loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Same story with Trump’s much promoted “Phase 1” China deal. Basically, the deal commits China to increasing imports, especially of U.S. agricultural products, and in return Trump suspends tariffs. This helps Trump in farm country.
The real issues, such as fundamental changes in China’s coercive pressure on U.S. companies to share trade secrets and its continuing subsidy of state-owned and -backed industries, will be addressed at some future date, which may never come. But this deal, like USMCA, was mainly about election-year bragging rights for Trump.
For this, the presidential/Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party has only itself to blame. For decades, Presidents Clinton and Obama allowed corporations and banks to dictate the terms of trade deals, and turned a deaf ear to the concerns of workers and domestic manufacturers. Washington’s view of China was wishful; its view of Mexico was dictated mainly by investment opportunities.
It fell to Trump to change policy. The actual policy change is mostly fake, but the deadlines are real.
Trump’s top trade negotiator, Bob Lighthizer, ran rings around his Democratic predecessors. He is the one Trump official whom President Warren or Sanders should keep on the job.
The assaults of globalization and the need for a new trade policy should have been winning issues for Democrats, not for Trump. With a progressive nominee, they still can be.