Below, find a list of discussion starters for the 2023 Camden Conference discussion series, created by facilitators Scott Miller and Bob Sargent.
- Over the last century, there have been significant swings in the perception of global trade—ranging from trade as an incredibly efficient mechanism for optimizing global economic resources to an enormous threat to national sovereignty, security and, ultimately, well-being.
Question: How should we think about the “right” level of protectionism (i.e., regulation of trade) in the U.S.? In other countries, both “developed” and “developing?”
- Some U.S. “protectionists”—very broadly defined—advocate for their positions as a means to “bring good-paying manufacturing jobs back to America” and help address income inequality. But these efforts, almost by definition, pull manufacturing jobs (many “good-paying” in their local context) away from other countries.
Question: How should we think about balancing efforts to address domestic, U.S. income inequality from income inequality on a global scale?
- Various supranational organizations, such as The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, govern, subsidize, or otherwise influence global trade patterns. And many countries have their own governmental trade organizations (the Export-Import Bank in the U.S. and a variety of E.U. entities), which provide direct and indirect subsidies, low-cost financing, and other “off-market” trade supports.
Question: Should governments be in the trade finance business, effectively picking winners and losers amongst global competitors? Or should they regulate trade more indirectly, through regulation that doesn’t clearly favor a particular company?
- Despite the WTO’s mandate, it only appears to be able to regulate effectively 1) the most egregious violations of free trade principles and 2) the trade actions by smaller, weaker “players” (i.e., countries).
Question: Is the WTO a failed concept? How much protectionism should it tolerate? Or is global regulation of trade a hopeless endeavor, and trade should left for individual countries (or groups countries) to do battle over?
- In addition to tariffs and duties on imported goods, countries have adopted a variety of non-tariff trade barriers, ranging from stringent requirements (Chinese efforts to ensure that the government has [unfettered?] access to intellectual property embedded in products sold in China) to more indirect barriers, such as the Inflation Reduction Act’s electric vehicle subsidies only applicable to vehicles with a substantial U.S. manufacturing component.
Question: How should we think about non-tariff barriers to trade, and how can the myriad of opportunities to construct these barriers be regulated?
- Trade agreements are constructed as contracts or treaties—mostly in a legal context. But many of the underlying issues are, at their heart, political questions for each participant.
Question: Should the U.S. view these agreements as legally binding contracts—especially when the counterparty countries may not have the same perspective on how to interpret contract law, or should they be viewed as mostly political agreements that are subject to “bending” when one or the other parties feels it would be expedient?
- A century ago, most “trade” was in physical goods, where counting the number of widgets imported or exported was relatively straightforward. But in today’s economy, a very substantial portion of trade—especially for the U.S.—is in services and ideas, which are more difficult to tally.
Question: How should trade in services and ideas be treated differently in international trade agreements?
- One driver of the labor cost savings associated with “outsourcing” labor-intensive production to developing countries is that they sometimes have less stringent regulation of working conditions, safety, etc. (There are, of course, many other drivers, such as a lower cost of living in developing countries.)
Question: To what degree should the U.S. be “dictating” labor standards to our trading counterparts? What about other “standards” in which the U.S. perspective may differ significantly from other cultures (e.g., animal welfare)?
- China’s Belt and Road initiative, among other things, provides a basis for China to tap into countries which are rich in resources, but poor in economic activity. This would allow China to benefit from extracting or using those resources (rare earth metals, coal, good agricultural soil, etc.) to benefit the Chinese economy. Many other countries pursue, or have pursued (e.g., in colonial times) similar strategies.
Question: How should international trade organizations and regimes protect developing countries from “extractive” strategies by big international players (China, U.S., Russia, E.U.), if at all?