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America Must Mend Many Fences on Trade

Summary:
The past four years of US protectionism and unilateralism will serve as a lasting reminder of how not to conduct trade policy in the twenty-first century. The Trump administration has utterly failed to achieve any of its stated objectives, and the incoming Biden administration will have to act quickly to repair the damage. WASHINGTON, DC – Until 2016, global leadership was a hallmark of American greatness. The United States was at the forefront of establishing and supporting the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and much else. America was exceptional in that, despite its stature at the end of World War II, it chose to build a world order through multilateralism and global

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The past four years of US protectionism and unilateralism will serve as a lasting reminder of how not to conduct trade policy in the twenty-first century. The Trump administration has utterly failed to achieve any of its stated objectives, and the incoming Biden administration will have to act quickly to repair the damage.

WASHINGTON, DC – Until 2016, global leadership was a hallmark of American greatness. The United States was at the forefront of establishing and supporting the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and much else. America was exceptional in that, despite its stature at the end of World War II, it chose to build a world order through multilateralism and global institutions, rather than pursuing reparations and unilateralism.

It is almost impossible to comprehend how much damage Donald Trump’s presidency has done to America’s global standing these past four years. From the start, his administration sought to reverse longstanding policies that had been embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Preferring unilateralism, Trump abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and other accords. He slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum under the pretext of “national security,” in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of international trade law under the WTO. These decisions – and Trump’s behavior more generally – quickly eroded the confidence that other countries had previously placed in US leadership and “soft power.” The US, suddenly, could no longer be trusted to honor its commitments.

While multilateralism cannot guarantee the US complete fulfillment of its objectives, it...

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