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Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to dramatically rewrite the rules on negotiating trade deals

Key Points
  • Elizabeth Warren, seeking to extend her momentum among liberal voters before the second Democratic presidential debate, on Monday proposed sweeping changes in how America negotiates international trade agreements.
  • Complaining that existing procedures enrich multinational corporations at the expense of average workers, the Massachusetts senator argued that revised negotiating standards, increased public disclosure and expanded participation would produce fairer outcomes.
Democratic U.S. Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren answers a questions during the Presidential candidate forum at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Detroit, Michigan, July 24, 2019.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

Elizabeth Warren, seeking to extend her momentum among liberal voters before the second Democratic presidential debate, on Monday proposed sweeping changes in how America negotiates international trade agreements.

Complaining that existing procedures enrich multinational corporations at the expense of average workers, the Massachusetts senator argued that revised negotiating standards, increased public disclosure and expanded participation would produce fairer outcomes. Warren called for the changes as part of her "economic patriotism" agenda, which also includes large tax increases on the wealthy, the breakup of major high-tech firms and a regulatory crackdown on Wall Street.

Major elements of Warren's trade proposal include:

  • Public disclosure of draft agreement texts throughout the negotiation process, not merely after a deal is reached and sent to Congress for a vote.
  • An expanded roster of advisory groups to U.S. negotiators beyond corporate and trade representatives to include a panel representing consumers, one representing rural areas and one for each region of the country.
  • Use of "fast-track" consideration by Congress, which requires an up-or-down vote without amendments, only when advisory groups unanimously endorse a trade deal as beneficial.
  • Higher labor, human rights and environmental standards for the countries the U.S. negotiates with as a condition of reaching a trade agreement.
  • A new "border carbon adjustment" tax on imported goods made by corporations that shift production to countries with weaker greenhouse gas emissions standards.
  • An end to "investor-state dispute settlement" arbitration that allows corporations to challenge laws enacted by countries on grounds that they violate trade deals the countries have signed.

"As president, I won't hand America's leverage to big corporations to use for their narrow purposes," Warren wrote in a Medium post outlining her plan. "I'll use it to create and defend good American jobs, raise wages and farm income, combat climate change, lower drug prices and raising living standards worldwide. We will engage in international trade - but on our terms and only when it benefits American families."

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By upending the way the U.S. has struck trade deals in recent decades, Warren's plan would make striking new ones vastly more difficult if not impossible in an era defined by increasing global economic integration. It stands no chance of enactment in a divided Congress.

But offering it, as she prepares to take the debate stage opposite democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont helps fill out her self-portrait as an aggressive economic populist bent on a fundamental shift in American economic institutions. At the same time, it offers a fresh target for rivals such as former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris who have targeted their appeals to more moderate Democratic voters.