Draft US Democratic Party Platform Notes Mixed Feelings on TPP

7 July 2016

Lawmakers from the US Democratic Party wish to see trade deals that feature stronger environmental and labour protections, while having mixed feelings on the merits of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, according to a draft version of the party’s platform released on 1 July.

The 39-page document, while still subject to change, is meant to give some initial indications of where the party will position itself across a range of issues during the last leg of the general election process.

The final version is expected following an 8-9 July meeting in Orlando, Florida, after which it will be adopted at the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for 25-28 July in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

That gathering is also expected to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as the party’s nominee for president, with the former Secretary of State set to face real estate magnate Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, in the November general election.

Trade: Promises versus results

Much of the document places an emphasis on ways to address the range of problems facing the American middle class, such as income inequality, stagnant wages, high education and childcare costs, and the potential negative ramifications that can result from trade deals.

“What makes America great is our unerring belief that we can make it better. We can and we will build a more just economy, a more equal society, and a more perfect union – because we are stronger together,” the text says.

The draft document claims that trade has delivered mixed results for the American people, failing “to live up to its promise.” Crediting the problem to trade abuses by other economies, along with outsourcing of jobs, the document also lambasts many of the trade agreements inked by Washington in recent years.

“Over the past three decades, America has signed too many trade deals that have not lived up to the hype,” says the draft document.

Among the areas that need strengthening in future accords are labour and environmental standards, the text says – arguing that these must also be enforceable if they are to carry real weight. Trade deals should also foster innovation and access to medicines, push back on illegal state aid abroad, and enshrine the right to regulate in the public interest.

Notably, the document does not take a firm stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, referring instead to a “diversity of views in the party” over whether the 12-country accord lives up to the party principles outlined in the draft document.

As a candidate, Clinton has said that she opposes the TPP in its current form, referring to a series of areas where it does not live up to her requirements, even if she did support it when she was formerly Secretary of State under the Obama Administration.

The Republican presidential candidate has, for his part, openly pledged to withdraw the US from the TPP should he win office this autumn. Trump’s stance has proven controversial, given that many members of his own party have previously indicated their interest in the TPP, particularly last year during the debate to renew Trade Promotion Authority legislation. (See Bridges Weekly, 30 June 2016 and 2 July 2015)

Despite mixed feelings within the Democratic Party on the TPP, the document reiterates that there is a shared view that any such deal must have strong labour and environmental protections, along with not hindering access to essential medicines – in line with the overall approach to trade policy stated in the document.

The text also calls for improved enforcement of trade rules, including on alleged currency manipulation by major US trading partners, with a particular focus on China.

US election politics in both parties have often raised the spectre of Beijing as a competitor who they claim may not necessarily play by the same rules, an allegation which has been repeatedly countered by Chinese officials, among others. The dynamic has long rankled many policy watchers who note that Sino-US cooperation is essential on the international stage, and has already led to major advances in areas such as global climate governance.

Climate change, energy

The draft document also includes a section on climate, energy, and the environment, warning that climate change is a “defining challenge of our time” and giving examples of recent weather events across the country that could be attributed to it.

The text pledges to continue President Barack Obama’s attempts at forging new climate change regulation domestically and leading on the issue internationally, including with the implementation of the Paris Agreement reached last December at the annual UN climate talks.

Among the objectives that the party may push is in cutting greenhouse gas emissions by over 80 percent of 2005 levels by mid-century, while also transitioning the country entirely to clean energy sources by that time.

These targets were announced just days after North American leaders, including outgoing US President Barack Obama, announced a joint climate and energy strategy which includes the goal of generating half of power in the US, Canada, and Mexico from clean sources by 2025. (See related story, this edition)

The move, while welcomed by climate observers, has also sparked questions over whether Obama’s successor will aim to boost his climate legacy, or may instead undo it. The Democratic Party platform stresses that steps in this area would aim to build on what Obama has achieved during his eight years in office.

“Democrats reject the notion that we have to choose between protecting our planet and creating good-paying jobs. We can and we will do both,” the draft platform says.

Among the other climate and energy areas where Democrats would like to see progress include investments in “green and resilient infrastructure” and upgrading the country’s electricity grid; taking steps toward improved fuel efficiency for automobiles, trucks, and shipping; defending the “Clean Power Plan” enacted under Obama; and cutting down oil and gas-related methane emissions.

Global leadership

The need for strong, “principled” American leadership on the global stage is also raised in the document, with the Democratic Party warning of the alleged risks to US diplomatic objectives should Donald Trump win office in November – particularly given his repeated statements in favour of more “isolationist” policies.

“Democrats believe that America must lead in the world to grow our economy, protect our interests, and make our country safer and more prosperous,” says the text, warning against “outsourcing” this leadership role to others.

The document then goes on to outline both region-specific priorities, along with overarching policy areas that have cross-regional impacts, such as refugees, global health, development assistance, and anti-corruption.

“We believe that we need to coordinate our economic actions with other countries to address economic insecurity, specifically youth un- and underemployment, gender inequality, digital transformation, and the transition towards green jobs,” the draft platform says.

The text concludes by warning against alleged attempts by Trump to undermine the current system of international institutions, calling instead for these to be updated and reformed. Abandoning them entirely, the document says, would be a “reckless” approach, particularly given that “decades of stability and economic growth” which they have fostered.

ICTSD reporting.

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