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The Art of No Deal: What Trump Gets Wrong About U.S. Policy

One of the concerns I have about Donald Trump’s presidency is Trump’s emphasis on “ripping up” various trade and environmental deals we are a part of as a nation. Treaties and multilateral agreements are not “laws” that we adhere to — they are commitments of broad policy, frameworks for dispute resolution, methods of working out technical issues in trade and with the environment, and more abstractly, represent the United States on the world stage. One Hebrew word for treaty is Berith, which may also mean covenant, an implication of sacred bond. The American global reputation is staked partly on our honest and faithful participation in these covenants.

Politically, perhaps the most well-known mulitnational treaty is NAFTA, which Trump has threatened. In a report published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, “overall trade between the three NAFTA partners — the U.S., Canada and Mexico — has increased sharply over the pact’s history, from roughly $290 billion in 1993 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2016.” Additionally, some 14 million jobs depend on NAFTA. Geronimo Gutierrez, managing director of the North American Development Bank, states “Mexico imports more from the U.S. these days than do all of the so-called BRIC nations combined – Brazil, Russia, India and China… Moreover, NAFTA has been the fundamental anchor for reforms that make Mexico a more modern economy and open society.” NAFTA has been a catalyst for greater trade value and for improving social circumstances in both nations.

One of the most impactful multilateral environmental pacts that the U.S. participates in is the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone. This went into force during the end of the Reagan administration, January 1, 1989. Among other positive results, the treaty allows for “the control of new chemicals and the creation of a financial mechanism to enable developing countries to comply.” The treaty also creates a framework for amending the protocol as the real-world situation changes, which it has several times over.2 Without the US’ influence and assistance, other nations would be potentially be able to pollute more or change other terms of the protocol without the US able to say a thing about it. This reduces American influence on the world stage. Whether the damage comes from microbead chemicals, garbage islands in the Pacific, or something greater, like Fukushima, pollution and environmental damage are not limited to one nation’s actions, they effect all of us.

Donald Trump seems to view trade agreements and environmental protocols with a Cold War mindset, that agreements are between nations individually, and often antagonistically, or as some kind of win-loss scenario, instead of creating a path to win-win scenarios. This is a faulty understanding of the way the modern global agreement works. Environments, economies and politics are now intertwined, and American participation in them carries not only the weight of power, but our reputation for freedom, progressivism and engagement with realities of the world. President Trump would be unwise to endanger American global power and reputation to satisfy the political whims his followers.


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