Editorial: Both parties are wrong about free trade

AP

Let’s be bipartisan here. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are wrong about free trade. Trade isn’t the cause of American job loss - it’s the answer to it.

The populist wave that surged through both the Republican and Democratic parties in recent months would have you believe otherwise.

And as James Capretta of National Review points out, “As the anti-trade rhetoric has heated up, there has been almost no one on the national stage willing to push back on the misleading arguments that have been made.”

Let’s start with the Republicans.

“The GOP candidates competing with Trump were especially feeble in this regard,” Capretta explains. “They largely went silent when Trump went on his repeated anti-trade rants during the primary debates. Not one of them stepped forward in any kind of sustained and meaningful way to challenge Trump’s false claim that trade deals in general, and the North American Free Trade Agreement in particular, were damaging for the U.S. economy, despite the abundant evidence that, on balance, trade has led to stronger economic growth, more employment, and higher living standards for those in the U.S. and throughout the world.”

But let’s not leave out the Democrats.

“Sanders argued during his run for the Democratic nomination that basically all international trading arrangements are giveaways to the rich and corporate interests at the expense of working people,” Capretta says. “And Clinton, after supporting TPP as secretary of state, switched to opposition without ever offering any kind of detailed or clear reason for her flip-flop.”

Now, though, free trade - and the TPP - are finding some champions. It may be too little, too late.

“Governor John Kasich recently penned a strong op-ed for the Washington Post in support of TPP,” Capretta notes. “He argued, correctly, that the failure to ratify the agreement would undermine the U.S.’s leadership position among the world’s advanced economies. But it is fair to ask where Kasich was with this argument during the GOP primaries… For his part, President Obama has become an advocate for the TPP and for U.S. leadership on trade liberalization, but it is a bit of a late-in-life conversion. He was far more circumspect about the benefits of trade deals before he became president.”

So what’s the truth about trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP? They benefit Americans immensely.

“In 1991, the year before President George H.W. Bush signed on to the terms of NAFTA, Texas exported $15.5 billion in goods to Mexico, according to the Texas Center’s Institute for International Trade,” Texas Tribune pointed out recently. “By 2015, that had increased sixfold. Last year, Texas’ export industry employed 1.1 million people - the most in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.”

As Capretta notes, “There is no good reason to oppose the TPP and every reason to support it… But if it is rejected nonetheless, the blame will lay in part at the feet of those in both political parties who know the case is strong but were too afraid to make it when it mattered most.”

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