(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2016: Trump, Brexit and Bears, Oh My!", please click here.)
One of the most surprising narratives about the 2016 election is that Americans hate trade. Both Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the far left blamed free trade agreements for America’s employment issues, focusing their ire on both NAFTA and the doomed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. (Though they largely forgot about TTIP, which could be bigger than the TPP.)
Americans probably support free trade agreements because the facts back up that free trade makes the world a better place. Just listen to Fareed Zakaria interview the guy who led the talks for the TPP. Or read these Vox links:
- If you consider all people deserving of good lives, not just Americans, then it’s a good thing that trade lifted 1 billion Chinese people out of poverty.
- NAFTA barely impacted employment in America. (Though it probably affected the Midwest, which is actually just another argument against the electoral college.)
- Overall, trade has decreased the cost of goods for most Americans, especially poorer Americans. (Ironically, ending free trade will probably hurt the poorest Americans, especially red states, while hurting “coastal elites” or the top 1% less.)
- Manufacturing, over the last few years, has actually been increasing in America. This fact seems to undercut every other argument against free trade.
- And even if manufacturing returns to America, automation is a greater threat to blue collar jobs than trade deals.
But I don’t support all trade agreements unconditionally; I support good trade agreements. Some have criticized trade agreements as not doing enough to support workers or protect the environment. Or they give too much power to corporations. And I agree.
However, if the alternative to bad trade deals is no trade deals, that means you still don’t have protection for the environment or workers. Plus, you now have the potential for huge tariffs which could cripple the global economy. Of course, trade deals will still happen, with or without America. From NPR (emphasis mine):
WENDY CUTLER: A lot of other TPP countries...are now actively figuring out their plan B.
NORTHAM: That plan B could involve trade deals with China, says Meredith Sumpter, an Asia specialist at the Eurasia Group...
...China wasn't a part of the TPP. But it is already leading another free-trade deal called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, involving 10 Asian countries. About half of the countries involved in the TPP are signaling interest in that deal.
SUMPTER: Moving toward the RCEP would be an easy answer to trying to find something to replace the TPP. However, the RCEP is actually a much lower-quality trade pact than the TPP.
NORTHAM: The TPP was touted as the gold standard of trade pacts because of its stringent rules and protections for things such as labor, the environment and intellectual property - not so with the China-led trade deal, which just focuses on lowering tariffs.
So by pulling out of the TPP, we went from having a trade deal with some (albeit questionable) protections for the environment, workers and IP to none. By not having a seat at the table, it looks like America (and liberal activists) just made things worse for the environment, workers and the global economy.
I doubt that was their intention.