The international trading system as we know it is ending. Republicans can seize the opportunity to reimagine it, writes Nicholas Phillips in National Review.
Politicians and pundits never tire of saying that America is at a crossroads. But when it comes to the international trading system, it’s true. Since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, trade policy has operated under a consensus that nations should work together to reduce trade barriers to a bare minimum. But the growth of China’s state-led economy has demolished old assumptions about the gains from global free trade, leaving the WTO in disarray and slowing its work to a crawl. This new reality has left Republicans swinging between two extremes: defending a dying system, or blowing it up with no replacement.
For its part, the Biden administration recently unveiled a “strategic vision” that promised to remake U.S. trade policy, but offered little more than watered-down Trump-era policies. Meanwhile, the White House’s WTO strategy was relegated to a secondary statement that neglected to mention China and called only for piecemeal reform — even though the WTO’s rules continue to fundamentally shape global trade.
Republicans should answer with a more ambitious agenda that seeks transformation, not reform, at the WTO. Instead of alternating between unearned defense and blanket repudiation, Republicans can reshape the international trading system to the advantage of the U.S. and its allies.