The Renewing America initiative is releasing today a new Progress Report and Infographic Scorecard, “Trading Up: U.S. Trade and Investment Policy,” which looks at the challenges and accomplishments of the Obama administration in international trade policy. As I wrote in an op-ed for Reuters today, “The Obama administration has quietly embraced the most ambitious agenda on trade and investment liberalization in the past two decades.”
But that ambition faces many challenges. As we note in the report and display in the Infographic, the administration will fall well short of President Obama’s pledge to double exports by the end of 2014, and foreign investment in the United States has been weak for most of the past decade. And the United States still faces the biggest trade barriers in the sectors where it is most competitive, like business services.
The current set of trade negotiations—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Asia, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe, and World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on services and information technology—offer what I call “a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a do-over.” About 39 percent of all U.S. trade is currently covered under free trade agreements; if the deals with Europe and Asia are concluded successfully, that figure will jump to 64 percent.
The hurdles are big of course. Dan Ikenson, trade analyst at the CATO Institute, tweeted this morning that my analysis was “a triumph of hope over experience.” He may well be right: the latest attempt to salvage something out of the 12-year-old Doha Round of world trade talks was floundering in Bali, Indonesia as our report was released.
But the stakes are high as well. More than 30 percent of the U.S. economy is now wrapped up in international trade, and America’s success or failure in global markets will go a long way to determining the living standards of my children and others in the next generation.
One piece of good news is that the public gets it. As I wrote yesterday, the most surprising result in the new Pew Research Center-CFR poll, America’s Place in the World 2013, was that — “despite continued weak growth, rising inequality, high unemployment and stagnant wages — fully 77 percent said that increasing trade and business ties with the rest of the world is a good thing for the United States. Two-thirds say they see more benefits than risks from engagement in the global economy.”
That too may be a triumph of hope over experience. But it is also a challenge to America’s political and business leaders to deliver.