Trump just signed an executive order beginning the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Good riddance. I've been fighting this for a long time.
As I noted five years ago, when this thing was just beginning, the omens were never good, and Obama should have known better. After the failed promises of NAFTA, a job-destroying trade deficit that has grown despite a long series of free-trade agreements, and ever-more-aggressive foreign mercantilism, it was obvious that America needed a new trade strategy.
This agreement (which may or may not continue without us) includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam to start. Eventually, its advocates hope, it will include every nation on the Pacific rim, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and China.
Yes, you read that right. China. America was on track for a free-trade agreement with its most voracious mercantilist trade rival.
Free trade with China. Of all the insane ideas one could possibly come up with...
As I've explained before, international trade isn't just a natural harmony of economic interests, it's largely rivalry, and mercantilism is how the winners play to win. But we naively refuse to play that game. Instead, we have faith in "free" trade, we think free-trade agreements will save us, and we lose.
When Obama couldn't sell this thing, his people resorted to bogus economic models to pretty it up.
Hillary Clinton unconvincingly repudiated it, but her long history of supporting free-trade agreements was one of the major things that killed her with the voters.
And if the purely trade aspects weren't bad enough, the TPP is also a profoundly anti-democratic agreement which signs away our right to govern our own economy. Despite being nominally a "trade" agreement, it contains provisions which interfere with areas well beyond the bounds of trade. To wit, it would (credit to Lori Wallach):
- Limit how U.S. federal and state officials could regulate foreign firms operating within U.S. boundaries, with requirements to provide them greater rights than domestic firms.
Taken to its logical conclusion, this all ultimately amounts to the idea that the profitability of investments must be the supreme priority of state policy--overriding health, safety, human rights, labor law, fiscal policy, macroeconomic stability, industrial policy, national security, cultural autonomy, the environment, and everything else.
While there is no justification for going to the opposite extreme and allowing governments to ride roughshod over legitimate property rights, these agreements thus rigidly mandate market-based, property-first solutions to questions where societies must strike a reasonable balance between public and private interests.
So what's the alternative? That is, what would a "reasonable" trade agreement, the kind Obama promised us as a candidate, but Trump looks like he may actually implement, look like? It would probably embody the following principles (credit to the Coalition for a Prosperous America):
- Balanced Trade: Trade agreements must contribute to a national goal of achieving a manageable balance of trade over time. I.e. no more chronic500 billion-a-year deficits.
Whether we're going to get all this from Trump, we don't know yet. But this is definitely the necessary beginning.
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