Biden Admin Trade Negotiators ‘Stunned and Confused’ After Receiving Strange Message from the White House: Report

Biden Admin Trade Negotiators ‘Stunned and Confused’ After Receiving Strange Message from the White House: Report

Imagine being the president.

You’re trying to close the deal on what one news outlet calls a “signature section” of your “signature trade effort.” You have your representatives working hard with 13 other nations to make it all happen.

What’s your message to them? It’s probably not “slow down a bit, will ya?”

Well, we don’t have to imagine a president who would pull a move like this — because, according to Axios, that’s exactly what President Joe Biden’s people are doing regarding the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, a structure for trade in Asia that is the subject of bilateral negotiations in San Francisco.

Axios cited “three people familiar with the issue” who said Biden’s “White House sent an urgent message last week to trade negotiators in San Francisco who were racing to reach an agreement on part of President Biden’s trade plan with 13 Pacific Rim nations: Slow down.”

“Biden unveiled the IPEF as a new approach to trade — not a traditional deal to lower tariffs and boost market access for all countries, but a deal to use common standards on everything from clean energy to digital transactions. The goal is to counter China’s influence in the region,” Axios said in its Tuesday report.

However, the “trade plan is getting fresh pushback from other Democrats, who see it as a potential liability in the 2024 elections,” the outlet noted.

One of these Democrats is Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is facing a tough re-election fight.

Given that trade deals — particularly with Southeast Asia — tend to send American jobs overseas and Ohio is a manufacturing hub, having Biden out on the campaign trail touting the IPEF while Brown is talking about efforts to keep jobs in his state would look a little discordant.

The same goes for whoever the Democrats can find to replace retiring Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, although that seat — in an energy-producing state, one that gets hit particularly hard when “clean energy” is a key Democrat agenda item — might be a lost cause.

To these vulnerable Democrats, the IPEF being approved in its current form after talks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco this week could be catastrophic — for their electoral chances, anyhow. It’s enough that even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reached out to the White House to express his concern privately, and Brown was willing to air his concerns publicly.

“I’ve made it very clear that the trade portion of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is unacceptable,” Brown said in a statement, according to Axios. “And I’m glad to hear the administration has decided not to move forward on an agreement that lacks enforceable labor standards.”

This referred to a portion of the framework referred to as “Pillar I,” the trade portion of the agreement.

The about-face might have made sense politically, given that the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated under former President Barack Obama — and repealed by his successor, Donald Trump — was also unpopular in manufacturing and energy-producing states.

However, say what you will about Obama and his deal, at least he was consistent about his priorities in that area. Biden’s people sounded eager about the plan.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told CNBC in an interview just two weeks prior to APEC that the United States was “looking to announce a number of deliverables across the pillars of IPEF, which we will be very excited to share with everyone.”

Now, according to Axios, the White House’s “directive left negotiators stunned — and confused — over what they were supposed to do.”

Matt Murray, the senior U.S. official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, sounded a lot less confident than Kai in a conference call on Monday.

“Certainly this week is a good opportunity to take advantage of counterparts from all of those APEC and IPEF members being in town at the same time, and being able to continue to hammer out in the negotiations some specific outcomes that they can be announced this week,” Murray said, according to a State Department transcript.

However, he added that there would be “an IPEF ministerial that will be ongoing, and I think that as we’ve seen with APEC and IPEF throughout the year, there’s a lot of complementarity between the topics that are being discussed in IPEF and the pillars on trade and on supply chains and on decarbonization and on anti-corruption and tax.”

When Murray was asked directly about Brown’s concerns by a reporter from Politico, though, he was ever eager to pass the buck.

“So on that I would defer — refer you to U.S. Trade Representative’s Office as they’re leading on that discussion,” he said.

“I think, again, the focus of myself and our team out here this week has been really on the APEC meetings that are — we’re going to be hosting this week, the ministerial and the leaders’ meeting, and all of the other things associated with that, including the CEO summit, a lot of private sector engagement, the outreach to stakeholders, and all of that,” Murray said.

As for “any specifics on where the negotiations are on the trade pillar for IPEF, I’d refer you to” the U.S. trade representative, he said.


Again, the IPEF debacle — whether you agree with supranational trade agreements of that sort or think they impose too great a cost on America in terms of jobs and energy independence — is proof that the Biden agenda is this: Go as radical as possible until you lose control of the organs of power.

The IPEF was, for all intents and purposes, rushing toward completion in its original form before Democrats looked at the Senate map for 2024 and realized that losing both houses of Congress would dramatically temper any victory at the executive level.

So, just like that, the president’s people — because, let’s face it, Joe is likely still deciding what flavor of oatmeal to have for breakfast and it’s already lunchtime, which means the IPEF isn’t exactly going to get sorted by him personally — slammed on the brakes.

Is this the kind of leadership America deserves? Because the world is watching both Washington and San Francisco — and it’s seeing nothing but chaos and dysfunction.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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