A Nebraskan once deeply involved in trade deals suggests the United States risks becoming less competitive in global markets if it backs away from free trade.
This is the first of a two-part series.
Darci Vetter, former chief agriculture negotiator with the U.S. Trade Office and advisor with the Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance at the University of Nebraska says trade has always been a political issue.
“I think what really strikes me is how the vocabulary about trade has really changed from one of being more competitive in the global economy to really a who’s winning and who’s losing,” Vetter tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.
Vetter negotiated the agricultural trade portion of the Trans Pacific Partnership, known as TPP. Vetter says the agreement with 11 Asia Pacific countries held to the highest standard rules, had great transparency, and protected intellectual property; all aspects the United States strives for in trade deals.
TPP became a lightening rod in the 2016 presidential elections with candidates who once supported it abandoning the agreement. Vetter was surprised the agreement came under such criticism.
“I did find it striking that there was somehow this idea that by working in a group you lose leverage, instead of by working in a group you can influence the rules of the whole region at once,” Vetter says.
Vetter calls President Donald Trump’s criticism of multilateral deals misplaced. She notes the World Trade Organization has more than 160 members and WTO deals tend to devolve into deals based on the least-common denominator. Bilateral agreements only benefit the two countries involved. Regional deals, according to Vetter, allow the United States to choose the group, involving countries which agree to meet the standards the U.S. demands while giving American businesses and agriculture access to a whole region’s markets.
The renewed debate on trade, according to Vetter, demonstrates the country hasn’t spent enough time thinking about what it means to be part of the U.S. workforce and how best to prepare workers to compete in a global economy.
The renewed debate also demonstrates America hasn’t completely resolved its anxiety about the global marketplace.
As for Vetter, she hadn’t necessarily assumed the case for open markets had won the day.
“But I did feel there was a fairly strong consensus that engagement in the global economy was something we couldn’t really pull back from and that it had broad benefits.”
Tomorrow: whether we are entering a trade war.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 min.]