The Biden administration is continuing its efforts to fundamentally change the focus of U.S. trade policy and is taking steps to make that change permanent.
In a recent speech in Philadelphia, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai explained the reasoning behind this shift. “People are at the forefront of our democracy,” she said, but “we have not always lived up to this ideal, including on trade policy. In the pursuit of maximum efficiency and lower costs, people were lost. Trade became a game of numbers, a race to the bottom – while a handful of corporations and elites reaped their gains, working families and communities were left behind.”
The Biden administration is therefore “rewriting the story on trade” by pursuing a more worker-centered trade policy “to bring more people in, to build a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive society,” Tai said. This approach seeks to avoid “the pitfalls of traditional trade deals anchored on tariff reductions,” she said, and to instead focus on “things that can help our businesses compete and succeed – like strengthening our supply chains, simplifying customs procedures and facilitating digital trade.” Examples of this approach include the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity.
To aid in this transition USTR commissioned an International Trade Commission report on how existing trade policy has affected what Tai called “those who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and underrepresented.” That report was submitted in November 2022, and Tai said that while it “provides a foundation to guide our future work and engagements with trading partners,” it also “revealed critical research needs and data gaps that call for further investigation.”
Tai has now asked the ITC to help address these shortcomings in a series of five reports to be delivered over the next 15 years. “The periodic compilation of the progress in filling these research and data gaps and making this independent account available in a centralized location would be necessary resources for the public and future trade policy makers,” she said in a letter to the ITC, who will face “the time-sensitive challenge of advancing sustainable trade policy that contributes to our nation’s economic competitiveness and resiliency.”
Tai wants these reports to synthesize and critically review information on the distributional effects of trade and trade policy “by race and ethnicity; gender; gender identity and orientation; age; and skill, wage, and income, as well as effects on persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas, urban areas and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty; and members of religious minorities.” In reporting on the direct and indirect impacts of trade and trade policy, Tai said, the ITC may also report on changes to other economic conditions, such as technology and automation, to provide additional context to the effects of trade and trade policy.
The deadline for the first report is Jan. 20, 2026, and the remaining four are expected at three-year intervals thereafter.
USTR has previously directed the ITC to also expand its research and analysis capabilities so that its future advice on the probable economic effects of trade agreements and trade policies includes estimates of the potential distributional effects on U.S. workers. Among other things, USTR wants the ITC to develop models capable of analyzing (1) the effect of expanded foreign market access on affected U.S. exporting industries and (2) the indirect effect on U.S. exports of intermediate inputs when final goods receive preferential access to the U.S. market. The ITC recently said it would brief USTR on this effort but had no plans to report on it publicly.
For more information on the development and implementation of U.S. trade policy and how it may affect your business or industry, please contact Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956 or via email.
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