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Queen’s Professors on Trump’s Trade Policies

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Over the past weekend, Donald Trump’s official ascension into American leadership cut what may be the ceremonial ribbon onto a new era of global politics. After the renewed promise to end American carnage, Juris Diction met with two experts at Queen’s University to discuss their perspectives on the President’s trade policies and its impacts.

Nicolas Lamp is a professor here at Queen’s Law, specializing in international trade lawmaking, and has worked previously as a Dispute Settlement Lawyer at the World Trade Organization. Marcus Taylor is a professor and political ecologist in the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University whose research focuses on climate change, food security, and global labour markets.

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JD: What are the pros and cons of international trade?

Prof. Nicolas Lamp:

Free trade makes us richer by giving us access to cheaper products. We also have access to greater choice and are able to specialize as workers.

It’s always been known that there are winners and losers from trade. The winners definitely include corporations, because they can move and allocate capital where it is most efficient, as well as highly productive and specialized workers in developed countries.

Those who lose out are the low-skilled workers in the same countries because they are now less competitive than low-skilled workers in other countries. And the problem specifically in the United States is that the impact of the losses from trade has been very geographically concentrated in areas such as the Midwest.

Prof. Marcus Taylor:

OXFAM came out with figures the other day showing how concentrated global wealth is and so there’s a lot of sentiment about the inequalities which global finance and trade have created. That doesn’t necessarily have much to do with international trade as it does with politics within countries which allow massive concentrations of wealth – take, for a contrasting example, Finland.
Trade is just a way of moving goods around, but it’s the ends to which the trade is pursued which is perhaps more problematic. The idea of globalization is to increase trade in the service of mass consumption. And the idea of development is to generalize that to as many populations as possible.

Although we’re producing more efficiently, by producing more and more the efficiencies are squandered. We’ve improved how we produce goods in terms of greenhouse gas released, raw materials and fuel, but we’re still increasing the size of the consumption pie so much that those efficiencies get wiped out. At our current consumption rates we would need one and a third Earths and we’re eating into resources which cannot be regenerated. What we’re doing at the moment is unsustainable.

JD: What will be the effect of Trump and his trade policies on the global scale?

Prof. Nicolas Lamp:

Trump essentially has a transactional approach to foreign policy where he approaches everything as a business opportunity, but this actually makes me less worried about Trump’s impact in trade because that’s how trade negotiations have been working for decades. It’s always been that you get what you pay for – “reciprocity” has always been defined very narrowly in trade negotiations, as “payment”. I think that if Trump tries to go back and renegotiate trade agreements, the result he’s going to end up with is not very different than what we already have.

The big question is whether Trump is going to do what he’s going to do within the framework of the WTO. And while Lighthizer (Robert E. Lighthizer, a trade lawyer nominated as Trump’s trade representative) has been dismissive of WTO obligations, hopefully he will see that the US has a stake in preserving the system as well. The system provides the US with leverage to constrain other countries.

Prof. Marcus Taylor:

Climate politics and trade politics are joined when it comes to US-China relations. My fear is that if trade barriers go up, then it will just lead to factionalism, antagonism and a breakdown of any kind of cooperation in the climate sphere. This is such an easy scenario to play a lot of brinkmanship politics, which is the kind of politics that Trump likes.

For instance, in climate negotiations at the moment, countries have pledged to reduce emissions. One of the principles is that richer countries should fund the poorer countries to enable them to transition and to adapt to the climate change that’s occurring. So one fears that if the Trump administration doesn’t take climate change seriously at all, then it will just use the threat of not taking it seriously to leverage its other political aims. Unfortunately, the climate change threat cannot be tackled outside of a multilateral cooperative agreement, and the clock is ticking.

JD: What is our role as students and activists today?

Prof. Nicolas Lamp:

What we have to think about as trade lawyers is how to address this imbalance of power between capital and labour which trade creates. One movement in that direction is that increasingly we see labour provisions in trade agreements. There are obligations for countries to strengthen and enforce labour rights so that the workers will regain a greater share of that surplus that is generated through trade.

Another way to re-appropriate that surplus, and I think that’s where we will have to look towards in the future, is through taxation. The State needs to re-invest the gains from trade in infrastructure, education, and retraining in order to increase job opportunities. For instance, one place to re-invest is the service sector, where there’s a lot of demand for work and we just have to make sure it’s properly paid and properly valued by society.

Prof. Marcus Taylor:

That’s a difficult one, because while the political cycle is seen in terms of election years, the climate cycle doesn’t run along to that. Right now, the fight is seemingly just to convince an administration that climate change is real and needs to be taken seriously.

I think it’s time to push pressure on politicians in Canada to lead very strongly [on fighting climate change] because there is a consensus in the developing world on tackling it. And potentially, the presence of a climate obstructionist in the White House might galvanize others to go farther than they would’ve gone before in knitting together a coalition to overcompensate for what is coming south of the border.

Lucy Sun (1L) is a Staff Writer for Juris Diction.

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