While progressive economists and free trade ideologues alike have criticized Trump’s threats of a trade war against China, they caveat and demur when it comes to discussing the White House’s belligerence around the enforcement of intellectual property rights abroad – partly because there is a pervasive sense that emerging economies are engaged in some kind of abusive behavior. But scrutiny around foreign “theft” of intellectual property must take into consideration the broader context of how the underlying system was constructed and what its architects intended. Accordingly, Center for Economic and Policy Research co-founder Dean Baker perceptively reframed the discussion: “The issue here is who set the rules and what is proper payment.”
The fact of the matter is that the neoliberal trade system today reflects power disparities between nations, providing unequal benefits while hobbling efforts to respond to global needs, including food security, climate change mitigation, and improved educational attainment. This is a salient issue for the left, which advocates for shared prosperity through equitable distribution of the means of production – not just within the borders of any one particular country, but also across the world. Here, given the sway of the United States over the World Trade Organization (WTO), the American left is best positioned among global peers to push for change – with advocacy opportunities arising during negotiations of trade agreements that require Congressional ratification and the presidential administration’s participation in multilateral ministerial meetings.