WASHINGTON — A four-letter F-word American leaders don’t use much these days when they talk about international trade: “free.”
Instead, President Joe Biden’s latest economic ties in the US and the Indo-Pacific have been described as a “partnership” and a “framework” – an example of how politically toxic free trade has become in the US.
The latest is America’s involvement in economic prosperity, which Biden announced last week as the start of the Americas summit, where leaders from 21 countries in the Western Hemisphere gathered, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Some saw it as a consolation prize after the unveiling of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity in May, which saw some of its 13 founding partners including India, Japan and Australia take a heavy hit – about 40 per cent of global GDP overall.
Its architects have gone so far as to point out that this is not a free trade deal, but a potential basis for future agreements.
“The fact that this is not a traditional free trade agreement is a feature of the IPEF, not a bug,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.
“We need a fresh approach to meet new landscapes and new challenges, and we will shape the essence of this effort together with our partners.”
Although the administration would not say so, the new approach involves rolling out non-trade-related agreements, to avoid the politically difficult hurdle of requiring Congressional approval.
The IPEF is the US answer to the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal, or CPTPP, which includes Canada and was abandoned by former President Donald Trump back in 2017.
Trade advocates in Canada say the federal government should make aggressive efforts to secure membership in the Indo-Pacific framework, which represents the US economic strategy in the Asia-Pacific.
Its members also include Brunei, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – and now Fiji, which was added shortly after the original announcement.
“When Fiji can complain and be added in 24 hours, there’s no reason” the federal government can’t do that, said Goldie Haider, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada.
“It’s either not—or; it’s not like, ‘You’re part of the TPP and you’re not part of it.’ It’s something coming together, and these outlines are clearly America’s response to its desire to stay away from trade agreements. So it’s best to stay in the room rather than look from the outside in.”
As the US summit concluded last week, Trudeau – whose liberal use of his own free trade rhetoric reflects a different political reality in Canada – would not explicitly say whether those efforts are underway.
“Canada is the only G7 country to have free trade deals with every other G7 country; We have extensive free trade deals with Central and South America, (and) we have extensive deals with Asia through the CPTPP,” he said.
Having elected to withdraw from that latter agreement, the US would clearly have to negotiate new partnerships with countries in the Asia-Pacific, he said, adding that Canada was in “full discussion” with the US about the US partnership. doing.
“But the conversation about how we work together – how we strengthen institutions, how we deepen business ties, how we support each other through greater resilience in our communities, in our countries How do you – which has been at the heart of hard work at the Summit, and will remain so.”
Mark Agnew, vice president of policy for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday cast doubts about the prospects of the US partnership, which bears too much in the way of fruition.
“I really get the sense that the Indo-Pacific framework has more meat on the bones than, frankly, what’s in there — things that are a little crunchy to them,” Agnew said.
The White House’s vision for IPEF includes “high standard rules of the road” for the digital economy, including the flow of data across borders, e-commerce standards and concerns about online privacy, he said — all issues that Top of mind for Canadian businesses.
“Canada has to look at both areas,” Agnew said. “But when I look at who holds more potential for Canada and Canada’s interests, the Indo-Pacific is where I think Canada has much more to focus on.”
Both frameworks reflect a concerted effort on the part of the Biden administration to inject progressive, labor-friendly values into the international business landscape and to counter the working class’s disdain for globalization.
Those values – and the growing political urgency for Democrats, who face challenging midterms in November — were on clear display Tuesday when Biden spoke to more than 2,000 labor leaders and union members at the AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia. .
“We need an economy built from the middle out and bottom out, not top to bottom,” said Biden, who was billed as “the most pro-Union president in United States history”.
“When the middle class does well, so does everyone else – the rich do great, they never hurt. But I also know that often we have an economy where the rich do better and better while The middle class gets left behind.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 15, 2022.