If you ask Donald Trump’s economic team, there’s a method to his madness of triggering painful trade wars. He’s imposing tariffs to force countries to the negotiating table, in order to set America’s terms of trade with the rest of the world. The first salvo is the NAFTA negotiations with Canada and Mexico, which have gone through eight rounds since last year and could restart as soon as August.
Trump isn’t personally running the show. The head negotiator, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, is a trade remedy lawyer with a core interest in manufacturing, and he has taken some positions that align with long-sought progressive priorities, like limiting incentives for corporate outsourcing.
But with these promising developments also come dispiriting ones, including the kind of corporate backroom dealing that has soured progressives on trade agreements for decades. Despite vowing to put America first, the Trump administration is facilitating policies that use trade to override U.S. law.
According to five sources close to the talks, the U.S. is near to signing off on a digital trade chapter that would give Internet service providers like Comcast and platforms like Facebook broad immunity from liability if their users post illegal or pirated content.
This framework, largely similar to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, would be included in a multilateral trade deal for the first time, as a prelude to making it a global standard—a major coup for the tech industry.