Democrats and Trade 2021: A Pro‐​Trade Policy for the Democratic Party



James Bacchus | CATO Institute

A narrative of popular discontent against open trade has taken hold, and politicians on both the left and the right have reacted by taking aim at trade agreements and proclaiming their support for economic nationalism. This is both bad policy and a misreading of the views of most Americans. Democrats should not fall into the trap of trying to compete with Donald Trump in skepticism about trade. Instead, Democrats should set out the positive case for trade liberalization and the rule of law in international trade.

To do so, they should look to the Constitution and reclaim the greater responsibility over trade for Congress envisioned there. Executive branch protectionism championed by President Trump has harmed the U.S. economy and worsened relationships with our allies. Congress needs to institute checks to make sure this does not happen again in the future. Democrats should also reengage in a constructive manner with U.S. trading partners in multilateral, bilateral, and regional settings. Working with allies, instead of against them, has its own rewards, and can also be used as a basis for addressing the challenge of China’s integration into the trading system. In this way, Democrats can develop a pro‐​trade policy that creates jobs and prosperity for Americans, and that also restores American leadership of the global economy.


James Bacchus is an Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute.

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