As the Trump administration scraps trade agreements and picks tariff fights around the world, Ms. Warren offers ideas that differ, somewhat, in language from President Trump’s but resemble them closely in protectionist spirit. “We will engage in international trade — but on our terms and only when it benefits American families,” her plan says. All that’s missing are the actual words “America First.” The main difference between Ms. Warren and Mr. Trump is that the president primarily vilifies the United States’s trading partners — everyone from China, which really does play unfairly, to Canada, an ally with which this country has relatively balanced trade — while Ms. Warren blames “big multinational corporations” for their lack of “loyalty or allegiance to America.” Business has profited from U.S. trade policy, she claims, while “everyone else has paid the price.” Everyone? Even farmers and workers in export industries? Even U.S. consumers who benefit from less expensive goods? The truth about trade is that it creates losers in the U.S. economy but also winners. Like Mr. Trump, Ms. Warren accentuates only the negative.
She does so in support of a program that would make all U.S. trade negotiation positions public as talks proceed, to end secret corporate influence, without explaining why any other country would agree to conduct talks in front of the cameras. She says the United States will make other countries’ adherence to high standards of human rights, environmental and labor protection, such as the elimination of all “domestic fossil fuel subsidies,” a precondition of trade talks. As Ms. Warren acknowledges, the United States itself could not meet her preconditions, though she is “committed to fixing that as President.”
On the core of Mr. Trump’s policy — tariffs — Ms. Warren waffles, calling them “an important tool” that must be “part of a broader strategy.” She’s for a tax on imported goods to offset carbon-intensive production abroad, which functions very much like a tariff, absent an equivalent carbon tax on U.S.-made goods. Ms. Warren’s main beef with recent trade deals is that they protect longer intellectual property rights for drug companies, though even this is not a simple matter, because too little protection could discourage needed innovation. Still, the good news, such as it is, about her plan is that, while it would make new trade agreements nearly impossible, it would not necessarily unravel existing ones.
At the Detroit Democratic debate Tuesday night, former Maryland congressman John Delaney and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper gamely pointed out the fact that Ms. Warren was abandoning the party’s more balanced traditions, as practiced most recently under President Barack Obama. Pushback from Democrats such as these is now all that’s standing between the world and a risky new trade-unfriendly political consensus in the United States.