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A Questionable Trade Policy Narrative Deserves Meaningful Debate

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Daniel J. Ikenson

Daniel J. Ikenson

Trade policy is complex and nuanced, which makes it fertile
ground for spinning narratives. Since the beginning of the Trump
administration, the establishment trade policy narrative has been
shaped considerably by the words and opinions of a Peterson
Institute scholar named Chad Bown. Mr. Bown is an economist and
former college professor, who has studied and written extensively
about U.S. trade laws. He also served on President Obama’s
Council of Economic Advisers.

Since the 2016 election, Mr. Bown—like myself, my Cato
colleagues, and many other trade policy analysts—has taken
exception to the Trump administration’s “America First”
rhetoric, explaining why their diagnoses are wrong and how
operationalizing their protectionist solutions would be bad for the
U.S. economy and America’s standing in the world.

But, somewhere along the way, Bown’s objections to
Trump’s trade views seem to have morphed into a
pseudo-religious mission to scapegoat the president for everything
that is wrong, has ever been wrong, or could possibly go wrong with
U.S. trade policy. Putting Trump at the center of everything that
is aggressive or contentious about U.S. trade policy may feed a
narrative the media grasps and embraces (and Trump likely
welcomes), but it obscures the real source of the problems.

The U.S. trade remedy laws, which predate Trump by a century,
are the problem. How the laws are written; how the regulations are
administered; how the status quo is defended are all at the root of
the problem. But Bown’s narrative implies that once Trump is
gone, U.S. trade policy will reclaim its exalted international
status as a beacon of fairness and humility, treading lightly and
rocking no boats. Please, Chad.

Putting Trump at the
center of everything that is aggressive or contentious about U.S.
trade policy may feed a narrative the media grasps and embraces
(and Trump likely welcomes), but it obscures the real source of the
problems.

Consider this Bown piece, published
yesterday on the Washington Post’s “Monkey
Cage.” Ostensibly, the article is about the Canadian
government’s submission to the World Trade Organization of a
“request for consultations” with the U.S. government
over various U.S. trade law practices that Canada believes violate
U.S. WTO obligations.

There was nothing especially noteworthy about the Canadian
government’s complaint, except that it came at a particularly
testy time in bilateral trade relations—less than two weeks
before the struggling NAFTA negotiations were to resume. The
complaint focuses on several very technical U.S. trade law
procedures having to do with the calculation and application of
duty rates in antidumping and countervailing duty cases, and it
takes aim at the U.S. rules by which domestic industries are found
to be “materially injured” or “threatened”
with …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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