To Build Back Better, Biden Needs to Fix Trade

To Build Back Better, Biden Needs to Fix Trade

Trump Has Left a Ticking Time Bomb at the WTO

The World Trade Organization (WTO) breathed a sigh of relief when former U.S. President Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection in November. Over the past decade, the rules-based trading system has had to weather the two largest global economic crises since the 1930s, a pandemic, and a populist U.S. president seemingly intent on the system’s destruction. Also clearly relieved was the European Union, which quickly rolled out an 11-page action plan to reboot the transatlantic partnership. The document mentioned the WTO no less than eight times.

President Joe Biden has made clear that he sees trade as a “critical pillar” of his administration’s foreign policy. And much of the United States’ trade—with allies, but also with China—takes place under WTO rules. The organization therefore likely has a vital long-term role to play. But Biden will now find the trade organization mired in multiple crises.

The WTO’s core system of resolving basic trade disputes is now broken. The organization has failed to deliver an agreement limiting the subsidies that are depleting the world’s fisheries. And the Trump administration, on its way out the door, vetoed the otherwise consensus selection of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the organization’s next director general.