Climate and Energy

What the US election means for its international partners

‘Inward-looking’ 2016 election candidates overlook advance in international climate cooperation

Few predicted the rise of Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, or the remarkable shift in Republican thinking over the past year on a variety of issues. Free trade, once a hallmark of the Republican platform, is now opposed by a majority of Republicans, according to recent findings by the Pew Research Center.  Some 67% of the Republican Party sees America as a declining world power, despite a median 69% positive global view of the US in 2015.

Despite achieving considerable support, first in the Republican primaries and then in the general election, Donald Trump would appear unlikely to win the US presidency at this point. Most US polls place Hilary Clinton ahead by a considerable margin.

But even Hilary, if she does win, will be left to grapple with the so-called “Trump effect” and challenges in maintaining international relationships that advanced under the Obama administration.

As has been the case in several European countries, the US population has grown increasingly inward-looking over the course of this election season. Though supportive of increases in overseas military spending, many Americans are increasingly fearful of foreign influence at home. Immigration is opposed by a considerable portion of the population citing economic and security concerns.

No matter who occupies the White House in 2017, divided public opinion within the US will no doubt have an effect on US foreign policy in the coming years.

Although Trump has been staunchly against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a key feature of US efforts to rebalance toward Asia, the trade agreement would very likely receive support from a Hilary Clinton administration. Clinton has strongly supported the agreement in the past and has opposed only some of the pact’s provisions.

However, public disapproval of the TPP is high across the political spectrum in the US and reflects growing concern about the effects of global trade. Securing sufficient congressional support for the agreement will be challenging in the current political environment.

Clinton has promised to tackle climate change by making America the world’s clean energy superpower – a position currently occupied by China, according to many observers. However, nearly half of Trump supporters care “not too much” or “not at all” about the issue, according to Pew. This divide, in addition to special interests, will continue to impede progress made on domestic and global climate policy over the past eight years.

Though it’s unlikely to be a top priority for Trump, a Clinton presidency would hopefully work to reverse the damage done by isolationist rhetoric employed throughout the campaign. Trump’s condescending approach to Mexico riled many on both sides of the border, and both campaigns have spoken negatively about China.

Although we may see some overtures to restore faith in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), there is little to suggest a considerable increase in attention toward the Latin American region in either a Trump or Clinton presidency. A Clinton administration would likely continue to advance much of Obama’s work in the region, however, and efforts to strengthen Cuba-US ties would be among its regional priorities.

The effect of this election on China-Latin America relations is less certain. China has been a central theme in both candidates’ speeches and debates, as it has been in other recent elections. But concern within the US government and among US policymakers about China’s presence in the region has diminished somewhat in recent years. This is due in part to China’s slowing growth, a failing Venezuela, and a tendency to view China’s presence in the region as increasingly commonplace.

Were Clinton to take a more “hawkish” stance toward China, as many recent op-eds and articles have suggested, more attention might be focused on China’s efforts in Latin America and other regions. Even so, one would hope for an administration that will seek common ground with China, especially on critical and time-sensitive issues such as climate change.