Final Dem Platform Lays Out Trade Reform Agenda

The Democratic Platform was recently posted, and it includes a lot of discussion of trade and global economic governance.

The language was extensively debated, including an internecine fight at the platform drafting committee over how explicitly to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Bernie Sanders’ delegates to the convention warned that Democrats should not cede that ground to the GOP and Trump campaign, and that anti-TPP themes would be part of the GOP platform. (Which they are, kinda but not really.)

Here’s the section on trade policy:

Promoting Trade That is Fair and Benefits American Workers

Democrats acknowledge that for millions of Americans, global trade has failed to live up to its  promise — with too many countries breaking the rules and too many corporations outsourcing  jobs at the expense of American workers and communities. Over the past three decades, America has signed too many trade deals that have not lived up to  the hype. Trade deals often boosted the profits of large corporations, while at the same time  failing to protect workers’  rights, labor standards, the environment, and public health. We need  to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies that support jobs in America. That is  why Democrats believe we should review agreements negotiated years ago to update them to  reflect these principles. Any future trade agreements must make sure  our trading partners  cannot undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment. They  must not undermine democratic decision – making through special privileges and private courts  for corporations, and trade negotiations must be transparent and inclusive.

Democrats’ priority is to significantly strengthen enforcement of existing trade rules and the  tools we have, including by holding countries accountable on currency manipulation and  significantly expanding enforcement resources. China and other countries are using unfair trade  practices to tilt the playing field against American workers and businesses. When they dump   cheap products into our markets, subsidize state – owned enterprises, devalue currencies, and  discriminate against American companies, our middle class pays the price. That has to stop. Democrats will use all our trade enforcement tools to hold China and other trading partners  accountable — because no country should be able to manipulate their currencies to gain a  competitive advantage.

While we believe that openness to the world economy is an important source of American  leadership and dynamism, we will oppose trade agreements that do not support good American  jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security. We believe any new trade agreements must  include strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards in their core text with  streamlined and effective enforcement mechanisms. Trade agreements should crack down on the  unfair and illegal subsidies other countries grant their businesses at the expense of ours. It should  promote innovation of and access to lifesaving medicines. And it should protect a free and open  internet. We should never enter  into a trade agreement that prevents our government, or other  governments, from putting in place rules that protect the environment, food safety, or the health  of American citizens or others around the world.

These are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to all trade agreements, including the  Trans – Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The platform again comes back to the themes in the section on labor…

International Labor

Democrats believe that a key element of American leadership is growing our economy and protecting American jobs. We also believe that the world will be safer when there is greater prosperity. That is why we will prioritize and strongly enforce provisions on decent work and worker’s rights in all American diplomatic, trade, and programmatic efforts. We think it is wrong for workers in the United States to have to compete against poverty – wage, child, or slave labor.

Democrats will fight to end child labor. We will promote broad – based economic growth across the world, pursuing a global economic agenda that promotes rising wages and invests in quality  public services, workers’ rights, and environmental protections. We believe that we need to coordinate our economic actions with other countries to address economic insecurity, specifically youth un- and underemployment, gender inequality, the digital transformation, and the transition towards green jobs.

In the foreign policy section, trade also gets a mention in the section on the Western Hemisphere.


The Americas are a region of singular strategic, economic, and cultural importance and  opportunity for the United States. Democrats reject Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on  our southern border and alienate Mexico, a valuable partner. We will instead embrace our  neighbors and pursue strong, fruitful partnerships across the region, from Canada to Latin  America and the Caribbean. We will bolster democratic institutions, promote economic  opportunity and prosperity, and tackle the rise of drugs, transnational crime, and corruption.

The platform also explicitly takes on Trumpian unilateralism in its closing paragraphs:

Global Economy and Institutions

Democrats will protect and grow the global economy. While Donald Trump wants to default on our debt, which would lead to a disastrous global economic crisis, we believe we must be responsible stewards and work with our partners to prevent another worldwide financial crisis.

Democrats believe that global institutions — most prominently the United Nations — and multilateral organizations have a powerful role to play and are an important amplifier of American strength and influence. Many of these organizations need reform and updating, but it would be reckless to follow Donald Trump and turn our back on the international system that our country built. It has provided decades of stability and economic growth for the world and for America.

To sum up, it seems like the following are the elements of the Party’s new agenda:

  1. Blue-Green: Use trade deals to raise labor and environmental standards abroad.
  2. Reducing role of private actors: No investor-state dispute settlement.*
  3. Transparency: Greater transparency in trade negotiations.
  4. Enforcement: greater use of existing trade enforcement tools.
  5. Economy and security test: trade deals must somehow “support good American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security,” although these elements are not defined.
  6. Anti-subsidy: Trade deals must crack down on foreign subsidies.
  7. New intellectual property rules? Trade deals should promote innovation, health, and the open Internet.
  8. Reform – not abolition – of existing and proposed treaties to meet these standards.

Compared to the 2008 Democratic Platform, this is more specific on benchmarks. While that platform committed to a vague amendment of NAFTA, this platform envisions reform of all past agreements to meet these standards.**



* Actually, it doesn’t say that, although I don’t think there’d be any way to argue that the system was not a “special privilege” for investors. It’s more arguable whether the system is a “private court”: many public international lawyers would disagree, and many arbitrations take place at inter-governmental institutions like the World Bank. The platform’s language about trade deals not preventing government from “putting in place rules” about environment, food safety, and health seems superfluous.No trade deal preempts regulation in the first instance. Many allow corporations to later sue over regulation once it is put in place, however.

** Here’s the trade section from that platform:

Smart, Strong, and Fair Trade Policies

We believe that trade should strengthen the American economy and create more American jobs, while also laying a foundation for democratic, equitable, and sustainable growth around the world. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development, but we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few rather than the many. We must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably.

Trade policy must be an integral part of an overall national economic strategy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad. We will enforce trade laws and safeguard our workers, businesses, and farmers from unfair trade practices–including currency manipulation, lax consumer standards, illegal subsidies, and violations of workers’ rights and environmental standards. We must also show leadership at the World Trade Organization to improve transparency and accountability, and to ensure it acts effectively to stop countries from continuing unfair government subsidies to foreign exporters and non-tariff barriers on U.S. exports.

We need tougher negotiators on our side of the table–to strike bargains that are good not just for Wall Street, but also for Main Street. We will negotiate bilateral trade agreements that open markets to U.S. exports and include enforceable international labor and environmental standards; we pledge to enforce those standards consistently and fairly. We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications. We will stand firm against bilateral agreements that fail to live up to these important benchmarks, and will strive to achieve them in the multilateral framework. We will work with Canada and Mexico to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement so that it works better for all three North American countries. We will work together with other countries to achieve a successful completion of the Doha Round Agreement that would increase U.S. exports, support good jobs in America, protect worker rights and the environment, benefit our businesses and our farms, strengthen the rules-based multilateral system, and advance development of the world’s poorest countries.

Just as important, we will invest in a world-class infrastructure, skilled workforce, and cutting-edge technology so that we can compete successfully on high-value-added products, not sweatshop wages and conditions. We will end tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas, and provide incentives for companies that keep and maintain good jobs here in the United States. We will also provide access to affordable health insurance and enhance retirement security, and we will update and expand Trade Adjustment Assistance to help workers in industries vulnerable to international competition, as well as service sector and public sector workers impacted by trade, and we will improve TAA’s health care benefits. The United States should renew its own commitment to respect for workers’ fundamental human rights, and at the same time strengthen the ILO’s ability to promote workers’ rights abroad through technical assistance and capacity building.

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