The global coronavirus pandemic shouldn't result in a rejection of globalization, particularly regarding trade. In fact, responding to the worldwide economic shock should mean lowering, not raising, trade barriers.
So it's encouraging that the United States and United Kingdom have begun negotiating a new trade agreement. Granted, the pandemic wasn't the spark — politics was, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a like-minded President Donald Trump, both Brexit backers, try to deliver upon their advocacy. Regardless, there's more reason than ever to forge an accord between Washington and London — as well as one between Washington and Brussels in the form of a U.S.-E.U. free-trade agreement.
Such an accord was in the works — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — but was scuttled by President Donald Trump, who demagogued his disapproval of T-TIP as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have served as an invaluable fulcrum against China.
The U.S.-U.K. talks started May 5, with round two of the virtual negotiations to begin June 15. While there is clearly an impetus for both sides to strike a deal, several difficult issues must be addressed. Those include health care and pharmaceuticals, as well as agricultural standards. Because of the complexities, a Biden administration could inherit the talks. If so, the same incentives exist: free and fair trade to boost both nations.
Minnesota has a major stake in the outcome. The U.K. was this state's ninth-largest export nation in 2019, worth about $556 million in goods and services, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Noting our diverse economy, Alan Gogbashian, the British consul general in Chicago, told an editorial writer that a U.S.-U.K. pact would benefit the state. "I think there's a lot of convergence between the Minnesota approach to recovery and the U.K. one," Gogbashian said.
Rather than retreat from the coronavirus crisis, the consul general believes that in the "COVID context" an agreement is needed more than ever. "We need more trade now to help with the recovery; what business needs now is clarity," Gogbashian said. "It's exactly because of the pandemic that [free-trade agreements] are more important than ever. The economic challenges we face are significant, and there's no guarantee it's going to go away anytime soon, so we need a long-term growth plan."
Advancing pacts with allies like the U.K. and countries in the E.U. is the best place to start, especially since environmental and labor standards are so similar (or superior, in many European nations), Joshua P. Meltzer, a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution, told an editorial writer. Noting that the transatlantic trading relationship is already the most significant for the U.S. and European nations, Meltzer said that, "Good jobs on both sides rely on the economic relationship and the robustness of it. This should merely be an attempt to just build upon that foundation and make it even stronger and more open to opportunities."
Indeed, healthy trading relationships are more critical than ever.