Rebuilding a Bipartisan Consensus on Trade Policy



Phil Levy | The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

By the summer of 2018, the United States was ramping up its first real trade war since the 1930s. The Trump administration was slapping tariffs on Chinese imports and responding to Chinese retaliation with escalation. The closest US allies were hit with tariffs on steel and aluminum on the grounds that trade in these products posed a national security threat. The Trump administration was detailing the flaws of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and using its power to block new appointments to the WTO’s dispute settlement system. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal that the United States had spearheaded was proceeding without US participation. The system of rules-based trade that had been built largely to US specifications was rapidly being dismantled, and American farmers and businesses were starting to feel the effects.

How did it come to this? How did trade become a central issue of the 2016 presidential election? Why was the country turning back to the sort of protectionism that had been discredited during the Great Depression? …

The purpose of this monograph is to offer a primer on the rapidly shifting trade situation. Chapter 2 begins by retracing the country’s steps—how did we get to our present position, starting from the shattered global economic system following World War II? It goes on to consider two of the most salient issues in the trade debate: the fate of the US manufacturing sector and the role of China in the global trading system. Chapter 3 delves into some of the particular issues that have been the most contentious, from trade’s alleged role in destroying manufacturing jobs, to dispute settlement, to trade deficits. Chapter 4 then explores paths the country might take to try moving toward a nonpartisan consensus on trade. These range from changes in how we negotiate trade agreements, to changes in how we perceive and describe trade agreements, to changes in the institutions supporting trade agreements.

The monograph’s goal is to respectfully represent the different sides of the vigorous debate. This does not mean that all arguments will be accepted as valid. Some prominent ones are demonstrably wrong. But the work does strive to give each side an honest hearing.


[To read the original monograph, click here.]

Copyright © 2019 The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. All rights reserved.