5 Action Steps for U.S. Trade Representative to Help Lead National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

Evergreen Action
4 min readDec 11, 2020


For too long, international trade agreements have favored the interests of powerful corporate polluters at the expense of workers’ rights, human rights, and our planet. President-elect Biden can establish U.S. climate leadership by overturning these injustices. The U.S. Trade Representative is not as well known as the Treasury, Defense, or EPA, but under a Biden administration it must become a powerful tool for global climate justice.

International trade offers a powerful lever to enforce the Paris Agreement commitments of every nation. USTR can move the world towards a thriving, just, clean energy economy by forceful advocacy for stringent standards on climate and on worker and human rights. Further, the office can create pathways to boost equitable clean energy growth in developing countries. USTR should also ensure America’s place as a leader in the clean energy economy by bolstering the competitiveness of domestic green manufacturing.

Katherine Tai is a smart, experienced choice to serve as U.S. Trade Representative. She is well positioned to reorient global commerce around climate action and re-establish a working relationship with China and other major powers to solve our global existential crisis.”

In order to realize Biden’s climate mandate, every federal agency must become a climate agency. As President-elect Biden begins an all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis, today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions for how the next U.S. Trade Representative must act:

1. Ensure Enforceable Climate Standards in All Trade Agreements

With a true all-of-government mobilization against the climate crisis, the U.S. — and the new USTR — must use its power to ensure the rules of international commerce promote ambitious climate action and the transformation to a clean energy economy. Crucially, the USTR should develop enforceable new climate standards to be included in all new international trade agreements. The terms of trade agreements should be conditioned upon countries’ commitments to climate goals, including phasing out polluting fossil fuels and adopting policies to fulfill or exceed their commitments to the Paris Agreement and other climate-related international accords. This will allow U.S. trade rules to contribute to the enforcement of international climate commitments necessary to confront the global climate challenge.

2. Secure Labor, Environmental and Human Rights Standards in Trade Agreements

Climate justice is social and economic justice — and the USTR can take major steps for global climate justice by applying labor and human rights standards, as well as climate standards, to all new international trade agreements. These standards should include living wages for workers, prohibitions against child labor, and promotion of environmental justice goals on a global scale through provisions for worker safety with regards to exposure to toxic chemicals and pollution. The new administration should also reject historical use of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, and its Trump-era replacement, which gives foreign and domestic private-sector corporations broad powers to sue governments over social and environmental standards before unaccountable third-party panels. Including stringent labor standards in trade agreements will also help protect jobs and good wages for American workers during the transition to a just, clean energy-powered economy.

3. Set Trade Rules that Accelerate Cross-Border Trade of Clean Energy Technology and Investment

U.S. trade policy should accelerate the equitable, rapid expansion of clean energy technology — and establish American clean energy leadership on the global stage. The USTR should work with trading partners to remove or reduce barriers, including tariffs, to clean energy and other climate-smart technologies, including energy efficiency and pollution control tools. Agreements can also foster international collaboration and innovation to accelerate the development of clean energy technologies and facilitate the equitable, affordable adoption of clean energy solutions in developing countries. Among the incoming USTR’s most urgent challenges will be de-escalating global trade wars affecting American and international solar industries.

4. Ensure Trade Rules Support Clean and Competitive American Manufacturing

The USTR has an important role to play in ensuring that international trade agreements and rules support clean and competitive domestic manufacturing industries. This includes the protection of domestic-content laws that can facilitate government procurement of comparatively lower-carbon American-made materials. It could also include working with the Commerce Department on the implementation of a Climate Duty, or border adjustment, to be assessed on imported goods (e.g. steel, cement, glass, etc.) whose lifecycle greenhouse gas content exceeds a certain threshold. This measure, to be necessarily adopted alongside ambitious domestic greenhouse gas reductions, can close the “carbon loophole” and help prevent leakage of carbon pollution to overseas production, and reinforce rising standards in the United States. Such a measure will not only incentivize low-carbon supply chains, protect energy-intensive trade-exposed industries, and provide a balance on America’s trade relationships, but it will also help to provide a supplemental domestic enforcement provision for the Paris Agreement.

5. Connect Trade Agreements with Developing Countries to U.S. Technical Assistance, Development Finance and Investment Opportunities

To achieve equitable, low-carbon international development, the USTR should work collaboratively across the U.S. federal government to ensure trade agreements with developing countries are followed by American technical assistance, development finance and investment opportunities to support building a clean energy economy. This should include through DOE’s role in the Clean Energy Ministerial, a restoration and expansion of the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI) co-led by the State Department and USAID, and the priorities for the Export-Import Bank, International Development Finance Corporation and related agencies. These can be tools to foster equitable, green development — instead of extraction and resource exploitation. In this way, America’s role in global commerce can assist our trading partners expand adoption of clean energy and just climate solutions. This assistance should also be tied to climate, labor, and human rights standards to help foster international development that is clean, fair, and equitable.