What would you do if you were a lame-duck, pro-trade Administration with no remaining prospects for negotiating new free trade agreements?
Well, you could do worse than start throwing Hail Mary passes in World Trade Organization negotiations and hope to complete a "Doha Round" deal by the end of this year — which is an important reason why the WTO just announced a "Mini-Ministerial" starting July 21 in Geneva.
And you might also back up to the next best step prior to negotiating a two-way FTA, a bilateral investment treaty or BIT. So in recent weeks U.S. trade negotiators have conspicuously moved towards commencing BIT talks with some major developing economies — namely China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc. For a variety of reasons, none of these are even close to being ready for a U.S. FTA, but they certainly are players of growing importance and starting BIT talks recognizes this — even if they are the ones that would have to enact all the pursuant reforms and heavy lifting. It's also hard for the Senate, which must ratify BITs, to object since we're talking about establishing basic guarantees in support of international investment and finance. Plus, thankfully, that "T" doesn't stand for "trade".
(As concerns Vietnam, the Administration has also just started dangling the idea of adding it to our Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which permits duty-free U.S. imports of some Vietnamese inputs that are otherwise hard to find in this country.)
Yes, the respective BIT talks will all be tough and lengthy, but they are steps in the right direction so let the Games begin — and thanks to the Administration for being more than a bit player by sending some decent parting shots.