Buy American, Following Up, free trade agreements, GAO, Government Accountability Office, Government Procurement Agreement, GPA, NAFTA, North American Free Trade Agreement, Obama, The Wall Street Journal, Trade, World Trade Organization, WTO
Although it doubtless wasn’t an intention of Wall Street Journal reporters Coulter Jones and Shane Shifflett, their article this morning on President Trump’s recent efforts to strengthen the U.S. government’s Buy America regulations considerably bolstered the case that overhaul is indeed vital – and within reach politically.
As I reported last month, a February Government Accountability Office (GAO) study showed that the United States is getting completely fleeced by its adherence to provisions in various bilateral or regional trade deals (like the North American Free Trade Agreement), along with a worldwide plurilateral agreement, that aim at eliminating domestic preference programs like Buy American regs.
The two main problems, according to the GAO? First, the best available data reveals that the United States has opened up its government purchases to foreign competition much wider than the nearly 50 other signatories of the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) sponsored by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Second, Washington’s implementation of this arrangement and of similar provisions in other trade deals has been so negligent that the U.S. government never bothered even to find out how well the GPA, or any of the similar agreements, was working until two Democratic Senators commissioned the GAO study – more than twenty years after the global agreement was signed.
Journal correspondents Jones and Shifflett spent most of their article purporting to explain that any administration efforts to boost Washington’s purchases of U.S.-origin goods and services would amount to “swimming against the tide.” After all, as they documented, “For the current fiscal year beginning in October, foreign businesses have received a bigger share of federal contract dollars than in any other year since at least 2009.” In fact, “foreign-owned companies already hauled in more money from federal contracts in the past three months [i.e, during the Trump presidency] than in any corresponding period in a decade.”
Moreover, any changes to procurement policy made by President Trump “would likely face legal challenges….Additionally, any executive order Mr. Trump may issue requiring the government to buy exclusively American-made products has the potential to be challenged in court, or overturned by Congress or a future administration” – because of trade treaties that aimed “to make it easier for U.S. companies to compete overseas by mutually easing trade restrictions with other countries.”
But the recent rise in federal contracts for foreign-made goods, according to the article, has nothing to do with either Trump administration negligence or uncontrollable forces. As the authors point out, “Much of the payout to foreign-owned firms in the first quarter of this calendar year was set in motion by the Obama administration.” Of course, that was the same Obama administration that came into office in 2009 and oversaw that previously noted longer-term surge in contracts awarded to foreign goods and services providers.
Further, those trade treaties described by the Journal piece as such towering obstacles to a Buy American overhaul are the same trade treaties that the GAO has strongly indicated are utter failures.
The administration knows about the unacceptable record of these arrangements, as do the Democratic Senators who requested the GAO study. How difficult, then, would it really be for the president to muster bipartisan Congressional support for declaring these deals null and void – at least pending convincing evidence that they’re working after all? And given the pervasive discrimination U.S.-based goods and service providers clearly face in most foreign government markets, how difficult would it be for Mr. Trump to win similar legislative backing for narrowing the loopholes and waivers contained in the current Buy American regulations – and monitoring and enforcing tighter rules much more effectively?
In other words, how many American lawmakers would insist on continuing to obey broken treaties and on refusing to re-level the procurement playing field unilaterally for domestic businesses and their employers? The answers may not be obvious to Mainstream Media journalists. They’re surely more obvious to politicians accountable to American voters.