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Opinion: Congress has a duty to enforce foreign trade deals

Erik Paulsen

Now that election day is behind us, new and returning lawmakers in both parties are looking ahead to next year. They're strategizing for what surely will be a momentous legislative session.

Trade enforcement deserves a spot high on my former colleagues' to-do list. Holding our trading partners accountable to pacts, and negotiating robust new agreements with our allies, would create jobs and help our economy fully recover from COVID-19.

International trade has long been a boon for the U.S. economy. Last year, the United States traded nearly $6 trillion worth of goods and services with foreign nations. Nearly 39 million U.S. jobs rely on international trade. At a time when millions of Americans who want to work cannot find jobs, it's never been more important to preserve and strengthen these economic opportunities.

Foreign trade barriers threaten domestic economic benefits, Paulsen writes.

Unfortunately, foreign trade barriers threaten many of these economic benefits.

For instance, local content requirements in Canada, Brazil, South Africa and India limit the amount of U.S. television programming that can be broadcast within their borders. And the world's preeminent form of audio IP theft, "stream ripping" — illegally downloading a file from a legitimate streaming platform onto your own devices — is a regular occurrence in Canada. These practices unfairly devalue U.S. creative content and keep our artists from being fairly compensated for their work.

Similarly, unfair and often discriminatory medicine price controls in countries like Canada, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom undervalue U.S. biopharmaceuticals. These practices make it difficult for U.S. drug companies to break into foreign markets, sell new medicines at fair market prices and recoup R&D investments to develop new cures.

Many countries also ban or place unreasonable limits on U.S. imports of agriculture and livestock products. The United Kingdom doesn't allow the import of certain U.S. poultry products. Brazil flat out bans the import of American "fresh, frozen, and further processed pork products."

Congress has an essential role to play in stopping these trade violations. After all, it funds the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — which negotiates and enforces trade treaties on our country's behalf — and gives the final go-ahead to trade agreements. And, consistent with its constitutional authority to "regulate commerce with foreign nations," lawmakers already have demanded robust U.S. trade negotiating objectives through the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority law. Now, Congress and the administration need to work together to advance their goals and eliminate onerous trade obstacles once and for all.

Policymakers can start by enforcing our trade deals, like the U.S.- Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). Since signing the deal in 2018, Korea has continued to undervalue American intellectual property, particularly when it comes to medicines. The United States should hold Korean officials accountable and demand that they "appropriately recognize the value of ... patented pharmaceutical product[s]," like they promised.

Members also have a duty to pay close attention to ongoing trade negotiations, such as the phase two U.S.-Japan talks. During phase one discussions — which produced a limited treaty earlier this year — U.S. trade officials failed to negotiate robust protections for U.S. intellectual property. Lawmakers can wield their trade authority to ensure that American negotiators don't make the same mistake during their second go-around.

The impending U.S.-U.K. trade agreement provides Congress with yet another opportunity. The United Kingdom routinely devalues U.S. pharmaceuticals and impedes U.S. agricultural exports. Addressing these trade barriers would create American jobs and set a good precedent for all other future trade deals.

In the next legislative session, lawmakers will inevitably find international trade negotiations on their dockets. Driving a hard bargain is the only way to establish a fair playing field for American companies and ensure a strong economic recovery.

Erik Paulsen represented Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2009 to 2019.