hillary-donaldWith the election about a month away, we use this post to take a look at the U.S. Presidential candidates on trade.

Hillary Clinton on Trade

Hillary Clinton as President will continue the general course of President Obama’s foreign trade policy. This course has focused on three main issues:

  1. Expanding market access through trade agreements;
  2. Enforcing trade rules in favor of US businesses; and
  3. Expanding exports through his National Export Initiative.

Ms. Clinton has suggested that she will revisit the first prong of this platform. As candidate, she has spoken against the recently-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) concluded by 12 Pacific Rim countries, including the United States. As President, Ms. Clinton will likely move to re-negotiate some of the provisions of the TPP, if it does not become law under President Obama. This is not unprecedented. The Obama Administration re-opened negotiations on the trade agreements with Columbia and Panama which had initially been concluded by the Bush Administration.

However, re-negotiation of the TPP will be a very different matter. The U.S. signed bilateral deals with Panama and Columbia – TPP would have to be revisited with eleven unhappy trade partners. Re-negotiation would also re-open the arguments around this contentious agreement. Some businesses do not like TPP because they didn’t get all they wanted while the TPP is opposed by many civil society elements because they perceive that some businesses got too much.

Donald Trump on Trade

The policy that Trump the Candidate promotes is best described as protectionist. In his trade platform to “make America great again”, he commits to retrenchment and strengthened enforcement:

  • Renegotiate the 20+-year old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between US, Canada, and Mexico;
  • Withdraw from the TPP;
  • Strengthen trade enforcement by labeling China a currency manipulator;
  • Strengthen trade enforcement by applying tariffs on goods from countries that his Administration would label “cheats”; and
  • Direct the Commerce Department to use all legal tools to respond to trade violations.

Some of these commitments, if implemented, would trigger a trade war. We can hope that this reality, as well as the strong professionalism of the US trade policymaking mechanism would prevail on these issues.

Trade with Cuba

The US-Cuba opening has been initiated by President Obama even while legislation enforcing the US embargo remains in place. In just the same way, his successor can reverse any one or all of the actions that led to this opening.

Ms. Clinton has expressed her opposition to the US embargo. We can expect her to at least maintain the status quo in US-Cuba relations in place upon President Obama’s departure.

Mr. Trump has expressed his opposition to the US-Cuba opening. As with trade agreements, he has a nuanced position. The businessman in him may appreciate the opportunities such openings create. As a Republican candidate for President, he has stated that he would reverse the openings unless he is able to pressure Cuba to give more political and religious freedom to her citizens.

So, US trade policy could look very different in 2017. The position of the US Presidential candidates on trade is, of course, subject to change upon assuming the responsibilities of the office. At the same time, this is an area with which Ms. Clinton is already very familiar – we can expect that her positions reflect this.