Skewing the Narrative on Trade Policy
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Interviewers exert a tremendous amount of power over their interviews — from the questions they ask (or, more importantly, don’t ask) to the tone with which they ask those questions, they can create or dispel a subject’s influence or appeared expertise.

This past week, Kai Ryssdal, host of Marketplace on National Public Radio, interviewed David Malpass, currently an economic advisor to the Donald Trump campaign. The interview touched on a number of issues, U.S. trade policy being an important one. As Malpass began to explain (within the context of a short interview for radio broadcast) how Trump might change trade policy, Ryssdal essentially dismissed Malpass’ initial answer — that in addition to renegotiating bad trade deals, the U.S. would be far more cautious when entering into new trade deals — and asked for greater specifics.

The problem was that Malpass was answering the question correctly, and Ryssdal was asking for details that simply couldn’t be given in that type of interview, leaving the listener with the impression that Malpass was either avoiding a more-thorough answer or that he couldn’t answer at all.

The reality is that from a macro-policy standpoint, there are three over-arching changes that any administration can make with regards to trade: 1) renegotiating bad deals; 2) being far-more careful about the deals we are going to enter into; and 3) working within the confines of existing trade deals and governing bodies to ensure that our trading partners are operating fairly.

From a day-to-day standpoint, it’s this third pillar that seems to create the thorniest problems. In the Marketplace interview, Malpass talked about China and concerns that it is violating World Trade Organization rules, but there are countless other examples — the global sugar trade being one of them.

With a number of countries (Brazil, Thailand, India) engaging in rampant economic warfare by trying to overwhelm the market with sugar, one would expect the price of sugar to be in steady decline, or, at the very least, not wildly fluctuating. But over the last decade, the price has varied greatly — today’s price per pound being nearly double what it was only a year ago (at just under $.20 per pound, from just under $.11 per pound a year ago).

There are a number of factors contributing to this, currency manipulation being one of them. But a primary drive is the massive over-subsidization by these nations of their sugar marketplace. Nations like India, Brazil, and Thailand spend billions of dollars, collectively, in subsidizing their sugar industries, putting American firms at a disadvantage when they are already hamstrung by an anti-competitive business climate (something Malpass also touched on in his Marketplace interview).

There was another tool that can be used to assist the U.S. in trade policy, one understandably not touched upon by David Malpass, since it deals with Congress and not the federal Executive Branch — that of legislative fixes and initiatives.

Pieces of legislation like Zero-for-Zero, a proposal that mandates the U.S. Government to take stock of the anti-competitive practices by our sugar trading partners before we unilaterally disarm our sugar policies, are one such example. Essentially, Zero-for-Zero calls for an assessment of whether our competitors are acting disingenuously or unfairly on the global stage before we change the rules governing our own practices. When the playing field is leveled through smart global reform, Zero-for-Zero would change the manner in which the U.S. government supports American businesses, and would, at the same time, eliminate other barriers to trade.

The point is, there are any number of tools available to anyone coming into the White House in January of 2017 who wants to change U.S. trade policy. But absent dealing with a specific set of circumstances between two specific trading partners and a specific set of goods being traded, those tools are going to be the ones laid out by David Malpass: renegotiating bad deals, being careful about the new deals we enter into, and working to ensure that our trading partners are operating within the parameters to which we all agreed.

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