“This century’s defining battle could be won or lost without a single shot fired”.
In an op-ed published on Wednesday by Foreign Policy, Ambassador Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, outlines why international trade has become one of America’s most important foreign policy tools.
As we are moving away from traditional Cold War strategic thought, where economic power was traditionally viewed as an enabler for military power, Froman stresses that prosperity has become a principal means by which countries exercise power itself. The Obama administration made US economic power a top priority in its National Security Strategy for 2015, “America’s growing economic strength is the foundation of our national security and a critical source of our influence abroad”.
As ASP has reported, the geostrategic interests in international trade have never been higher for the US. Efforts for global trade liberalization are facing increasing hardship from rising economic powers that do not necessarily reflect U.S. values and interests. As Froman writes, in the Asia-Pacific region over 200 trade deals have been concluded in recent years and the vast majority of these agreements make no commitment to protecting labor rights and environmental standards, creating disciplines on state-owned enterprises, and promoting the digital economy.
To ensure continued American leadership on trade, Froman outlines three core objectives of the Obama administration’s trade agenda: strengthening the international rules-based order, strengthening partnerships with critical allies, and promoting inclusive development.
The US is currently negotiating two of the world’s largest free trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Both trade agreements will serve to safeguard critical U.S. values and interests. They will level playing fields for US workers and businesses, for example by establishing new labor and environmental standards and tackle issues with state-owned enterprises as well as setting rules for maintaining a free and open internet.
“By leading on these issues, the United States can launch a race to the top, rather than be subject to a race to the bottom that we cannot win and should not run.”
In his piece, Froman positions trade and America’s leadership in the global trade arena as critical to US foreign policy in the 21st century. The American public discourse has shown a renewed interest in international trade in recent months, partly due to the progress made in TPP negotiations and the Obama administration’s push for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
Although trade can be a contentious issue (and Froman does not engage his critics in this article), it is imperative not to lose sight of the bigger picture when discussing the topic. By leading on trade, the U.S. is driving economic growth, strengthening the foundations of free-market economics, and is supporting an international rules-based order that sets higher standards for workers and businesses, protects the environment and creates a level playing field for businesses and governments alike.