How Biden would use trade agreements to fight global warming

The former vice president and key Democrats in Congress want to use trade agreements to fight global warming, but reversing four years of Trump's "energy dominance" is no easy task.


By Gavin Bade, POLITICO



Presidential nominee Joe Biden and some Democrats in Congress want to use trade agreements to combat global warming, breaking from decades of U.S. trade policy that largely ignored climate change.


The move would add financial teeth to international pacts to reduce carbon emissions, which until now have relied on voluntary participation by the countries signing them. It would also mark a departure from the Trump administration strategy of boosting fossil-fuel exports.


Democrats and environmentalists say the shift is necessary because the worst impacts of climate change can’t be averted unless the whole world cuts carbon emissions. And the U.S. has the economic might to push that change.


“The U.S. is in a globally unique position,” said Todd Tucker, a trade and climate researcher at the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank. “It’s got the largest consumer market in the world and with that comes a lot of leverage over foreign governments.”


Biden’s trade agenda calls for a global ban on fossil-fuel subsidies, tariffs on imports that produce a lot of carbon, and trade deals that include commitments to reduce emissions. Key Democratic trade leaders in Congress say they are on board.


“I’m confident that we’ll be able to work with a Biden administration to, in a cooperative way, make sure that we are taking into account carbon emissions,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), head of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade. “We can look at things like having a carbon border adjustment tariff, so that we don’t have countries importing or exporting carbon pollution.”


Republicans warn that Biden risks alienating the Rust Belt voters who will have sent him to the White House if he becomes president and his policies reduce exports of heavy manufactured goods or fossil fuels like oil and natural gas, even if that’s accompanied by a drop in imports from other countries.


“Biden is going to have a big problem if he really goes in this direction in a vigorous way,” said Clete Willems, a former career staffer at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office who later advised President Donald Trump on the National Economic Council. “If you start adopting policies that shut down exports you’re going to have a lot of unhappy people in politically important states.”


But even some Democrats from Midwestern states, where the party has lost working-class voters to the GOP, say they are ready to add climate concerns to their trade agenda. They are gearing up for a battle next year when Congress will need to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority, which lays out rules for the executive branch to negotiate new trade deals...


... That would be a clean break from the Trump administration’s policies. Today, U.S. trade negotiators cannot make deals that require domestic carbon cuts, under a TPA provision Republicans inserted in 2016...


... “We have a very aggressive plan to move on this internationally — not just rejoining Paris, but also working to get our allies, partners and others to raise their ambitions,” Tony Blinken, a Biden campaign adviser who served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration, said on a Chamber of Commerce webinar last month. “I’d like to think that’s a place where the U.S. and Europe can lead together.”


The Biden camp has been reluctant to release details...


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