WITC 2020: Meet the [Trade] Press




On Tuesday February 4th, 2020, WITA hosted its second annual Washington International Trade Conference (WITC). At the event, WITA held a session surrounding trade reporting entitled, “Meet the [Trade] Press”.

Meet the [Trade] Press, Reporters Roundtable

By: Madelyn Cunningham

On February 4th, 2020, WITA hosted a panel discussion of trade reporters entitled, “Meet the [Trade] Press.” Similar to the press roundtable of the inaugural WITC last year, this panel allowed insight into the opinions of various reporters, from junior correspondents to senior editors. With trade on the forefront of global news, hearing from those who break the latest stories gave the audience a look into trade’s growing importance in the media. 

The reporters featured in the panel were Jenny Leonard, a trade reporter at Bloomberg News, David Lynch, a global economics correspondent at the Washington Post, James Politi, the World Trade Editor of the Financial Times, and Ana Swanson, a trade and economics correspondent at the New York Times. Moderating the discussion was Ambassador Susan Schwab, a strategic advisor at Mayer Brown LLP.

To begin the panel, Ambassador Schwab gave the roundtable context on the recent crisis of dispute settlement within the WTO, specifically on the provision Uruguay Round Agreement Act, that states that every five years, the United States Congress can vote by joint resolution to move the United States out of the WTO. While this matter has not been voted on since 2005, it still holds valuable insight into the political side of trade agreements. Schwab then goes on to ask the panel what they hear about the WTO on the Hill, and whether or not they think a joint resolution to vote will arise in Congress.

Ana Swanson responded by discussing the relevance of the WTO, as not only is there a general argument against its relevance in global politics, but it is more so being used as a political counter against the Trump administration over the need to fix its dispute settlement process. She stated that while there is a growing questioning of the WTO’s relevance, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo seems to be taking these criticisms seriously, and that the recent crises may be worked on in the future at the institutional level.

Moving on to whether or not Congress will take a vote, Swanson concluded that given the high margin of disapproval for the vote in 2005, and the continued non-voting trend throughout the rest of the decade, it would be difficult to pass in Congress.

Ambassador Susan Schwab went on to ask, in relation to the coronavirus and U.S.-China relations as a whole, what the timing prospects were for a Phase Two Deal and so on. David Lynch spoke on the Phase One Deal to introduce his response, as its implementation will most likely delay any further deals to follow it, as the Chinese government would rather first implement Phase One before any additional deals are mediated. Lynch predicted that the Phase Two deal will be something that develops next year, after the 2020 Presidential Election.

Jenny Leonard of Bloomberg News follows up on this point with her opinion as to the contents and timing of the Phase Two Deal, stating that even Phase One would be a win for the Trump administration. Thus, the Phase Two Deal may not necessarily be on the forefront of his trade agenda. 

James Politi argued that even with the trade deals with China, the tariffs will stay, as with the recent unfolding of the coronavirus and its effect on the Chinese economy, the need to implement Phase One has been lifted. Over the long-term however, if these purchases have not been followed through, the administration and the USTR will be put under a lot of pressure in the enforcement of the first deal, setting back Phase Two even further. To conclude, Politi emphasizes that the outcome of the implementation of Phase One and creation of future trade deals with China is still unclear, as is the perception of whether or not these deals were a win for the Trump administration.

The panel was skeptical of the implementation of Phase One before the presidential election later this year, as Trump’s trade promises have been kept and used on his campaign trail. Jenny Leonard followed with the skepticism that while the drafting of Phase Two is still in the air, so is the implementation of Phase One. 

In regard to working with our allies, Schwab asked James Politi about the prospects of the U.S. and the E.U. working together in the future. Politi responded that the trust between the U.S. and the E.U. has been broken down, so having one front against Chinese trade is very unlikely as the E.U. has felt fairly targeted in recent trade policy and tariff implementation. Politi argues that the E.U. would thus take a more “pragmatic” approach, instead of only aligning with the United States in trade policy, they would rather build a trade relationship with China.

David Lynch made the interesting point that the United States no longer shares the same values as the European Union, a statement contrary to popular and academic belief throughout history. He goes on to state that Trump has further diverged from the European Union going as far as to say that the institution is worse than China. 

James Politi follows up on the shift of the European Union, as the trilateral discussions were stalled due to misgivings and an overall lack of trust. He goes on to discuss the greater pressure on member states to enact deals with Trump with its growing isolation from world powers.

Ana Swanson states that while the U.S., Europe, and Japan may have a common interest in addressing unfair economic competition from China, there is also competition among those countries for the China market. Whether through multilateral export control or investment into Chinese services like Huawei, there is a lot of contradiction between this so called “common interest” and the actual actions of those countries.

Ambassador Susan Schwab summarizes the panelists’ prediction for future trade deals with China as a mini-deal being more likely than an actual Phase Two Deal, and even further more so than no deal at all, at least before the election. Schwab claimed that the general deadline for any other deal would be until July 1st, 2021, whether that be a follow up to Phase One, or a mini-deal with tariff proclamation authority.

Moving forward, Ambassador Schwab brings up the UK as a general talking point. James Politi discussed the implications of Brexit, as negotiations were supposed to be underway for a trade deal with the U.S., similar tensions between the U.S. and the E.U. have come up. As negotiations have not been started and there is no set launch date, so similarly to the pane’s prediction for further U.S. China deals, a mini-deal is more likely than one that is more comprehensive. Overall, U.K. trade deals will be “slow-rolling” post-Brexit.

In regard to trade deals from other countries, while the possibility of a trade deal with Japan and Vietnam received no comment, Ana Swanson touched on how a deal with India would most likely be a mini-deal, this deal still being one of the largest deals between the U.S. and India. She goes on to speak more broadly on mini-deals, there is no set motivation for the administration to return to more comprehensive trade deals, as not only is it a more streamlined process in avoiding a Congressional vote, but it makes no difference to the American public.

To get at trade policy and politics, Ambassador Schwab asked the panel to elaborate on trends of U.S. trade politics and the legacy of the Trump administration’s trade policy as it stands today. Jenny Leonard begins by claiming that “bashing” China works in favor of the administration and will be present in all administrations to come, no matter the party. 

David Lynch follows up on this by claiming the president “blew up” conversations that were previously sterile, this has resulted in a shake up of the current system. He claimed that these deals were made for President Trump to use in his campaign, but there will be various costs to this approach, such as irritating allies, economic inefficiency due to company cost, but they will eventually even out.

Ana Swanson then discusses the difference of the trade agenda a couple months ago versus today, with the December tariffs on China about to come into effect, an unclear timeline of trade deals like the USMCA and Phase One, however these issues were resolved within the past months. This difference in the trade climate has been translated into political victories, possibly even having long-lasting positive political implications. Swanson also brought up the point that the USMCA was a bipartisan effort, as the trade agreement brought in elements of the democratic and labor union platform.

Swanson questioned whether or not a Democratic president would be able to reach the populist Republicans to form a trade coalition in the future, but overall trade policy is shifting into a different, more bipartisan direction.

To conclude the discussion, Ambassador Schwab asked the panel where they individually got their news, especially in their interactions with various political institutions. While panelists said the various news sources represented in the room, interestingly enough twitter has also become a big outlet for news in recent years.




Jenny Leonard, Trade Reporter, Bloomberg News

David Lynch, Global Economics Correspondent, Washington Post

James Politi, World Trade Editor, Financial Times

Ana Swanson, Trade and Economics Correspondent, New York Times

Ambassador Susan Schwab, moderator, Strategic Advisor, Mayer Brown LLP

To view more details about the event, visit the event page here.