Democrats aim to regain advantage on trade from Trump

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are unveiling a new set of trade policies aimed at appealing to working-class voters and regaining advantage on an issue Donald Trump seized to great effect during last year's presidential campaign.

Some of the proposals being rolled out Wednesday sound like talking points straight from Trump, including renegotiating NAFTA and strengthening "Buy America" policies. Despite his rhetoric on those issues, Trump has taken limited steps so far, although he did formally pull the U.S. out of a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact that Congress probably wouldn't have approved anyway.

"For too long, big corporations have dictated how trade deals and foreign acquisitions are negotiated and the American worker has been left without a seat at the table," according to the Democrats' trade blueprint. "As a result, many of these deals have boosted corporate profits, but for many hard-working Americans, these same policies have led to shuttered factories and lower wages."

The trade policies being announced Wednesday are the second roll-out in Democrats' new "Better Deal" agenda, which House and Senate Democrats are proposing ahead of the 2018 midterms. Last week Democrats unveiled the overall agenda and made public the first three planks, which focused on creating more jobs, cracking down on corporate monopolies and lowering prescription drug prices.

On trade, Democrats are proposing a new American Jobs Security Council to review and potentially halt foreign purchases of U.S. companies. Chinese state-owned enterprises are increasingly entering U.S. markets by purchasing American companies, but the reverse doesn't usually happen because of restrictions in China on U.S. investments, according to supporting documents.

Democrats also envision a new "independent trade prosecutor" who would be empowered to investigate unfair trade practices outside the unwieldy World Trade Organization process, and recommend retaliation in the form of restrictions to U.S. market access.

And Democrats call for renegotiating the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, with the goal of achieving more American jobs and higher wages, and enforceable labor standards. Trump has also called for renegotiating NAFTA, a deal he bashed ceaselessly on the campaign trail, and a couple weeks ago his administration outlined its goals for doing so, some of which overlap with the Democrats' ideas.

The Democrats also call for strengthening "Buy America" provisions in taxpayer-funded projects. Trump, too, has harped on the "Buy America" theme even as it's been revealed that some of his own products and those marketed by his daughter Ivanka's fashion line were manufactured in other countries.

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Overall, the Democrats' trade proposals underscore the influence of the party's liberal wing in pushing it in a populist direction that rejects multinational trade deals in favor of more protectionist policies that elevate U.S. workers' interests. Indeed trade had been seen as an area where Trump and congressional Democrats could work together, since Trump is more aligned with Democrats on the issue than with the traditional Republican free-trade approach.

But such cooperation has not materialized as it's become apparent that Trump and Democrats are unlikely to work together on anything except where strictly necessary.

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