Former U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor delivered the keynote address at the 2017 JILFA Symposium, “U.S. Trade Policy in the New Administration.”
“We have to get away from threatening and divisive rhetoric, railing about the past and, frankly, lying to the American people. We should not remove ourselves from our global responsibility — it is not in America's interest,"
By Kevin Sprague (UCLA 2018)
UCLA International Institute, March 21, 2017 — Mickey Kantor, former U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton, delivered the keynote address at the 2017 JILFA Symposium, “U.S. Trade Policy in the New Administration,” on March 3. The symposium included three panels on the topics of trade policy and strategy, investor-state dispute settlement and labor issues, respectively (see agenda here). This article reports only on the keynote address of Secretary Kantor.
The event was cosponsoredby the Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs at UCLA School of Law, the Burkle Center for International Relations, the UCLA Graduate Students Association, and the International Comparative Law Program.
Kantor's remarks focused on the problematic nature of Trump’s recent remarks on trade, more effective and inclusive ways with which to negotiate trade deals like NAFTA and TPP and the important role these agreements play in maintaining the international order.
“One in every five American workers’ job depends on imports and exports,” Kantor reminded the audience as he opened his talk. “There are 41 million, and counting, members of the workforce whose employment relies on international trade.” He worried that the sentiment of anti-globalization fostered by Trump will have a tremendous negative impact not only on employment, but also on the general quality of life in America.
The speaker was critical of Trump’s constant talk of renegotiating standing trade deals such as NAFTA, an idea he believes alienates and threatens American allies like Mexico and Canada. “It’s absolutely fine to update a 24-year-old trade agreement, but to ‘renegotiate’ is hostile,” he said.
He worried that Trump’s accusatory and bullying tone weakens our relationships with allies, regardless of whether or not the new administration intends to work collaboratively with them. “My experience with negotiation is that threatening another country does not exactly get you where you want to go,” said Kantor.
Lessons from the Clinton administration
The speaker illustrated his point with two anecdotes from his time in the Clinton White House. First, he mentioned a 1992 campaign event at which Bill Clinton referred to the oppressive Chinese government as the “butchers of Beijing.” Clinton later apologized for the controversial comment before ultimately solidifying China as a favored trading partner during his presidency and even helping China enter the World Trade Organization.
Kantor explained that Clinton’s decision to apologize came from an understanding that it would be impossible to negotiate legitimate trade deals that benefited the American people while disparaging the nations involved in those deals.
Kantor also spoke of Bill Clinton’s desire to expand NAFTA to include labor and environmental provisions during 1993 negotiations. Provisions such as these were not commonplace at the time, but the Clinton administration was able to include them by framing them as a non-threatening “update” of trade standards. The speaker emphasized that these stipulations would never have been included had Clinton publicly disparaged the idea of working closely with the United States’ foreign partners. Similar provisions are now among the basic tenets of trade agreements the world over.
Moving away from divisive rhetoric
Although Kantor opposed Trump’s tone on trade in general, he did agree that current agreements and deals could be renovated for the internet age. “If we make any major trade agreement, this administration could help American workers greatly by updating them for data, technology and security,” the speaker said, reminding the audience that NAFTA had been negotiated in a very different technological, social and political climate in the early 1990s.
Finally, the speaker pointed out the hypocrisy of “throwing up walls and bridges while yelling the word ‘sovereignty,’” given that a significant number of Fortune 500 companies make enormous revenues abroad. “We’re joined at the hip with the rest of the world, and we're going up or down together. Hurting the world economy hurts the American economy and the American worker,” said Kantor.
The former trade representative concluded his talk by stressing the reliance of the United States on the global economy. “We have to get away from threatening and divisive rhetoric, railing about the past and, frankly, lying to the American people. We should not remove ourselves from our global responsibility — it is not in America’s interest,” he insisted.