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Coons Says US Trade Policy Should Center on Climate, Digital Trade, Developing Nations

For Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the future of U.S. trade policy is to make climate a trade policy priority, work with global allies to set digital trade standards and deepen the U.S. trading relationship with the global south.

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Coons laid out his trade priorities during a Feb. 8 event at the Georgetown University Law Center, leading off with the use of trade policy in addressing climate change. Dubbing the construction of the new global energy economy as the "project of this century," Coons detailed global efforts to install border carbon adjustment mechanisms.

"We need to harmonize these approaches," he said, noting that the U.S. has a tax incentive approach while the EU and other global entities, including Canada and the U.K., have a regulatory approach. Coons brought up a recent piece of legislation he wrote with 11 bipartisan co-sponsors that tells the Energy Department to study the emissions created in the manufacturing of goods made in the U.S. and globally.

Coons said the U.S. also should work with these same actors to establish digital trade standards, touting the creation of additional free trade agreements like the USMCA as a means of doing so. "I think we should double down on negotiating with like-minded allies and partners and focus our negotiations on areas of strategic importance and commercial strength," he said. Coons noted his recent efforts in the Senate to start FTA talks with the U.K. and create sector-specific FTAs.

"Tariff reductions need not be our primary objective," Coons said, adding that negotiators shouldn't rule out discussions about market access. "Simply saying we don't want to talk about market access at all in any setting really constrains our ability to engage," he said. Instead, market access should be used to achieve "some of our most desired outcomes."

Coons also discussed engagement with developing nations. Central to this is the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is set to lapse next year. Discussions on renewing AGOA should take place this year as opposed to waiting until there's a crisis next year, Coons suggested.

Coons said Africa is the fastest-growing continent and will contain five of the 10 largest countries in the world by the end of the century. "It's got a lot of opportunities around renewable energy as well," he said. Africa has also become more entwined with China over the past few years, and AGOA is a means the U.S. can use as a counter to this development, Coons noted.