Labor provisions are an increasingly important feature in trade agreements. But do they work? Despite the attention paid to labor provisions in trade deals like USMCA, domestic policy, not trade agreements, might be the most direct – and most effective – way to improve workers’ lot, especially in advanced countries like the United States.
We long ago stopped having to make everything we need: forging tools, handcrafting shoes from hides and weaving textiles for clothing. The expansion of global trade is affording us the opportunity to rediscover and reinvent the art of “making” itself, which could in turn profoundly impact what we make and what we trade.
Many industry observers are sounding alarms about the looming impact of automation, robots and 3D printing, which they fear will destroy jobs, disrupt value chains and maybe even reduce the need for international trade. But data and evidence don’t support the hype.
Working class Americans have been unable to compete for jobs demanding specialized technical skills, while the places they live have been hollowed out by shifts in global supply chains and the death of low-skilled manufacturing. So long as these workers feel left out of the economic mainstream, they will remain a potent political force, including in the upcoming 2020 election.
An architect’s style and skill doesn’t always win the day when competing in overseas markets for services. Some trade policies are like scaffolding protecting local professionals, but some trade rules offer support beams that enable global talent to build the vibrant cityscapes of today and tomorrow.
Cambridge is a major hub in Massachusetts’ life sciences ecosystem. What makes up the DNA of vibrant biopharma and medical device industries? Trade associations, overseas governments and investors, and U.S. government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are all part of the prescription for economic growth.
Technology has enabled us to tap into a global labor pool of remote workers anywhere in the world there’s a good Internet connection. 48 million workers registered their services on online outsourcing sites in 2013, according to the World Bank.
Well-known razor makers like Boston-based Gillette already face strong headwinds from changing consumer habits: fewer men are shaving as regularly now that beards are more in fashion. Online subscription services like Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s are also putting pressure on prices and profit margins. Now, razor makers are dealing with the problem of tariffs on the specialized steel they import.
A community’s store of “social capital” can determine how well it rebounds from adversity.
The biggest chunk of tariffs in the Great Tariff War of 2018 is between the United States and China, beginning with two rounds of tit-for-tat tariffs worth around $50 billion against one another. The United States just raised on the ante by another $200 billion. China will not fold; they will go “all in” in this poker game, but we don’t know what that means yet as they hold their cards close.