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Joe Biden’s “middle class foreign policy” puzzle

Joe Biden’s “middle class foreign policy” puzzle


Something that Joe Biden and most of the world would agree on is the failure of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. The U.S. global trade deficit grew nearly 40 percent during Trump’s tenure, the base he cared about the most.

Biden, on the other hand, has taken a much more vague measure of diplomatic success: America’s middle-class health. Each step will be evaluated in terms of its impact on ordinary Americans.

Biden’sforeign policy for the middle class”It has an attractive ring. Like all good slogans, it refreshes the brand. But it’s not clear how different their product will be.

A skeptic would call this view Trumpism human face. Foreign policy for the middle class, in other words, can be a euphemism for “no trade agreement”. A closer look would show that Biden is doing everything it needs to regain public confidence in a globally committed America.

What will it be? One of the most striking aspects of Biden’s administration is the gap in tone between foreign and domestic policies.

On the front porch of the house, Biden has been careful to blow the wind. Unlike the fears of major divisions in the Democratic Party, the left is happy with their leader’s radical internal plans.

It is almost the opposite in a relatively cautious view of the world. Among other complaints, the Liberals are unhappy with Biden’s tough stance on re-entry Iran’s nuclear deal, Mohammed bin Salman’s gentle treatment of the Saudi prince’s crown and Chinese rigor.

Biden has two problems showing his diplomacy on Main Street. First, U.S. allies want greater economic engagement. This means trade and investment agreements. Biden can differentiate between the past, based on 21st century issues such as 5G and green technology, in the face of Trump’s mania for soy and steel.

But unless the U.S. is willing to contact Asian and European partners, China will continue to eat up U.S. market share. This would hurt both the American middle class and the general level in the US. Most Asian American partners trade much more with China than with the US.

Second, trade negotiations of any kind are now considered toxic in U.S. politics because in part, many Americans have attributed reduced income to globalization. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser on strategy – and one of the middle-class foreign policy architects – has defended the US Goldman Sachs and Big Pharma dictate the conditions past trade agreements. This is indisputable. Business lobby groups have always had greater power than Washington’s union sectors, environmental groups, and other actors.

According to Sullivan, the only way to regain confidence in trade agreements is to force U.S. manufacturers to regain production and close overseas tax shelters. But it is not the low-cost China that produces the most drugs in America. Depending on the value, it is so Switzerland and Ireland.

Once again, Sullivan is close to the truth. The problem is that these measures can take years to begin to change middle-class perceptions if Biden achieves them. The biggest study that China is willing to take on financially is the Pacific Partnership, a trade deal largely negotiated by Barack Obama.

It would be political suicide to join the Biden TPP at this stage. However, it would be a geopolitical catastrophe for the US if China were to join the group, as has been said maybe wanting to do. The perspective is not so far away. As America ponders, China has been busy making global trade and investment pacts.

The rest of the world is not in a position to shake up U.S. voters. This task is in the hands of American leaders. The best opening for Biden would be to deepen U.S. public fears about China, which peaked at 73 percent last year. Pew, is still surprisingly high trade support generally.

Americans are not automatically afraid to trade more, but to trade with China. Biden might add that most of the wear and tear on industrial jobs in America is caused technology, not trade, and lack of federal support for those who lose trade. Washington has been turning a blind eye to corporate tax avoidance for decades. Extensive treatment of shareholders has only been matched by indifference to the fate of employees.

Given the political climate in America, I would be surprised if Biden re-entered the TPP or if trade talks began beyond Europe. However, his advisers are aware that the consequences of US inaction will be nothing more than mastery.

Sullivan wrote that the fate of America’s great power competition with China will “ultimately activate how each country manages its national economy and forms the global economy.”

He also said that the lack of domestic investment is “a greater threat to national security than the US national debt.” The key to U.S. fortunes lies in the ability of Biden to do two things: strengthen the American middle class while keeping China away from the world economic stage.

The good news is that Biden moving forward in the first. The bad news is that he can’t wait for his potential election before taking political risks in the second. The global economy will not wait for Biden’s decision.

edward.luce@ft.com



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