The U.S. Chamber of Commerce pressed the Biden administration on Thursday to end its moratorium on negotiating new free trade agreements and to be careful not to jeopardize the nearly $1 trillion commercial relationship with China as it clamps on exports of the most sensitive goods, like semiconductors.
"Today we have trade deals with 20 countries, and it has been 10 years since we’ve added a single new partner to that list," Suzanne Clark, the group's president and CEO, said in a speech on the state of American business. "Meanwhile, other countries have inked 100 new trade deals without us. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you are standing still, you are falling behind."
Start with the U.K.: She urged the White House to restart free trade talks with the United Kingdom as the first step in reversing the current "downward trend on trade."
"The UK is our closest ally, and we’ve already laid the groundwork for a meaningful deal," Clark added, referring to negotiations that began during the Trump administration and that were put on ice after Joe Biden became president. The two sides did launch a dialogue early last year on the Future of Atlantic Trade, but that effort has meandered since then.
Expand the IPEF talks: Clark applauded the administration for starting talks with 13 other countries on the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, but said U.S. trade negotiators must "aim higher" than their current goals. "We need an ambitious outcome — with strong rules on digital trade and, crucially, market access," she said.
Strike the right balance on China: The United States "must be strong and smart when it comes to China. Failure to strike a balance could undermine our security, our economy, our competitiveness, and our future," Clark said.
That means being "resolute" on China’s threats to U.S. national security and values and "practical" when it comes to the broader commercial relationship that "supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs," Clark said. "We can deploy targeted export controls and other safeguards in sectors where our national security is at risk without cutting off the wider trade flow that is so important to our own economy."
She urged the administration to use the new House Select Committee on China to forge "a serious, bipartisan approach" that is sensitive to differences in areas of concern and then "to get back to the negotiating table" with Beijing to address its trade-distorting practices.
Push back against global overregulation: Clark also called for a stronger U.S. effort to "set global standards and global policy." Overzealous regulation in the Europe, Asia and elsewhere around the world threatens market opportunities for some of America's most competitive industries, such as in technology, agriculture and nuclear energy, she said.
Pay more attention to Africa: The business leader also reinforced administration efforts to forge a stronger U.S. presence in Africa, following the U.S.-Africa leaders summit that Biden hosted last month.
"Competitors like China are already making strategically significant inroads" on the continent, Clark said. The U.S should negotiate more bilateral agreements, like the talks already underway with Kenya, and support Africa’s continental free trade area, she said.
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