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Changing the 40-year Imbalance in U.S. Trade

Posted February 04, 2014

A highly-regarded international trade lawyer has outlined specific steps Congress and the Obama Administration can take to help change the 40-year imbalance in U.S. trade and ensure future international trade “does not come at the expense of U.S. companies and workers.”

In written comments submitted yesterday to the Senate Finance Committee urging changes to the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, Terence Stewart, managing partner of the Washington, DC-based international trade law firm of Stewart and Stewart, pointed out that in the last 40 years, since trade promotion authority first passed, the United States has gone from a nation with balanced trade to a country that imports approximately 50 percent more than it exports. “The reality is that the past 40 years have expanded trade but at the direct cost to Americans of millions of manufacturing jobs,” Stewart wrote. “Indeed, using U.S. Department of Commerce figures … the trade deficit in 2013 cost the United States over 3.75 million jobs in that year alone.”

In his comments, Stewart urges current international negotiations be used as a vehicle to achieve balance. These opportunities include the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, and the Trade in Services Agreement, among others. “Something is seriously amiss and has been for many years,” Stewart said. “Trade liberalization has brought expanded trade but not reciprocal opportunities.” In international negotiations, Stewart recommends that the U.S. demand tools and triggers which permit much more automatic enforcement mechanisms against U.S. trading partners that are not in compliance with international trade law obligations.

Examples of critical issues that need to be addressed that are not presently effectively addressed include: currency manipulation and misalignment, discriminatory treatment for countries (principally the United States) that rely on direct taxes versus those relying on indirect taxes, and state-owned, state-invested, and state-directed companies and enterprises (including cartel behavior by governments).

To achieve a rebalancing of our trading relationships, Stewart explains that Congress has an opportunity to adopt changes to The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 to address the types of problems he has identified. The present bill introduced in both chambers of Congress, which begins to address some issues such as currency manipulation and state-owned enterprises, and provides some better Congressional oversight, as drafted does not go far enough and “needs to be modified to ensure a fair shake for American companies, workers and their communities,” says Stewart. Stewart’s statement concludes, “There is a pressing need for Congress to explore what has happened, what is and is not working, and what steps might be necessary to achieve better balance in our trade with the world.”

Source: Stewart and Stewart LLP