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  October 22nd, 2018 | Written by

America First: Is U.S. Trade Policy Too Rough, or Too Fast?

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  • The United States has logged no less than 123 disputes as complainant before the dispute settlement panel.
  • In order to keep open trade doors of foreign markets, the U.S. must leverage its size as the world’s largest economy

With just a few months left until the end of the year, enforcement of the current U.S. Administration’s trade policy agenda remains in full swing. From the renegotiation of NAFTA, to the imposition of two rounds of massive tariffs on China and others, few in the international trade community can point to a period in recent memory when the U.S. has been more active on the global trade stage.

Even the Chair of the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement appellate body has signaled an unprecedented challenge in managing its caseload given the “high number and complexity of appeals” currently before the body. The United States has logged no less than 123 disputes as complainant before the dispute settlement panel, even as the U.S. President threatens to pull out of the WTO for perceived “unfair treatment”.

In order to keep open the trade doors of foreign markets, the U.S. must leverage its size as the world’s largest economy. To do so, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) must maintain incentives that go beyond size, and sharpen trade policy attention through five priority areas established by the U.S. President on:

(1) integrating national security in policy decisions; (2) encouraging use of taxes and deregulation to strengthen the U.S. economy; (3) revising or terminating trade agreements that don’t meet current objectives, while creating new ones that do; (4) enforcing U.S. trade laws ranging from invoking a Section 301 investigation under the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 ( for the first time since 2001), to ensuring the Federal Trade Commission reviews labels to prevent unfair export competition; and (5) reforming the multilateral trading system. On the latter, it remains to be seen, what actions the U.S. will take, and how other WTO members will respond.

The American private sector, for its part, depends on USTR’s leadership, to lift barriers to cross-border trade so that it can focus on manufacturing competitive products, managing global value chains with its many foreign partners, and continuing to provide innovative services to consumers. In fact, with the United States being by far the largest exporter of services in the world (to the tune of US$760 billion in 2016), the U.S. service sector, from banking, energy, and courier services, to insurance and information technology, among others, depend on friendly business opportunities overseas to keep their huge profits.

But leadership must be accompanied by diplomacy. Renegotiating trade deals, or implementing new trade policies, only has value when the private sector gains access to better trade opportunities, and economic activity is buoyed in both the affected export and import markets.  According to the U.S. association of “Women in International Trade”,  the only way for the U.S. to have a win-win with its international trade policy, is for the current Administration to demonstrate “…firm, but fair behavior” in its trade dealings. There, the private sector has an important role to play.

If the latest round of U.S. trade policy changes is to have the desired effect, the American private sector, with international supply chains spanning the globe, must take a more active role as a diplomatic buffer, using its huge cross- border, “soft diplomacy” influence to hold open the doors of riled foreign markets that sustain millions of jobs riding on “made in America” exports.

Magda Theodate is an international trade attorney, and global trade facilitation consultant. She has more than a decade of experience applying her legal skills in support of international trade reforms, trade policy development, and governance initiatives that enhance economic development in lower and middle income countries. To learn more, please visit :