Normalizing Foreign Trade Relations

 The Biden admin has not yet made moves to undo elements of Trump’s trade war, and some parts of it may not get undone, perhaps especially some directed at China.  But at least one move towards normalization with the rest of the world has just happened as the Biden admin has agreed to let the individual nominated to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) take office. This is Ngosi Okunjo-Iweala, not only a woman, but a former Finance Minister from Nigeria.  She had previously been blocked by the Trump admin, with Trade rep Robert Lighthizer claiming she had “no experience in trade relatrions at all.” The Trumpers supported a former South Korean trade minister who negotiated a trade agreement with the US in 2018, but others did not do so.  The Trump admin had also blocked appointments of new judges to adjudicate trade disputes at the WTO, a more general move to essentially declare the WTO to be useless and no good in pursuit of an “America First” policy.

As it is, Okunjo-Iweala has a PhD in economics from MIT and long experience in negotiating several trade agreements along with having had a record of combating corruption in Nigeria as Finance Minister.  Aside from obvious possible sexism and racism in opposing her, according to the WaPo story on this the real reason for Lighthizer’s opposition to her was based on her supposedly being too close to former US Trade rep Robert Zoellick of the Obama admin, a pretty petty reason in the end.

This certainly does not mean that everything the WTO does is great.  The entry of China into it two decades ago was followed by serious loss of jobs in manufacturing in the US.  This should have been offset by policies within the US, not trying to keep China out of global trade agreements.  I do think it is reasonable to try to have a set of global rules about trade, even though we know that these get violated a lot, and enforcement of them may get spotty or biased.  But having such a set of rules looks to me better than not having any, which seems to have been the position of the Trump admin.  As for the China issue, well, the damage was done long ago now and China is in   Time to move on.

Anyway, this may not be a big deal, but it does signal yet again a willingness by the new administration to reengage with global organizations to try to achieve common goals, with the this following the reentry into the Paris Climate Accord and the WHO. All of these may be flawed, but improving them is going to be achieved by being in them, not standing outside whining and pushing obviously super nationalist agendas from the US.

Barkley Rosser