Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump don’t have much in common beyond their notorious hairstyles. Unfortunately, all three are now against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the 12-nation free trade agreement that is still awaiting final Congressional approval.
That’s a shame, because the TPP would do a lot of good for a lot of people.
As anyone who has taken an introductory macroeconomics course can tell you, free trade is good for consumers. Letting companies export without the distortions of import taxes enables them to lower costs and sell more. For a wealthy and educated country like the United States, this might mean exporting more high-tech products or entertainment. For a poorer and populous country like Malaysia, this might mean selling cheaper, high-volume goods like T-shirts.
I won’t exaggerate the domestic trade benefits of the TPP. It will raise an estimated extra $70 billion in U.S. incomes through 2025, but that’s only one percent of our projected growth in GDP.
Much of the debate is about what else the TPP signifies in terms of the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1994, “free trade” deals have also debated human rights, intellectual property and civil society. Here, the TPP shines. Provisions guarantee abolition of child and forced labor, rules against wildlife trafficking, overfishing and logging, guarantees of unionization and workplace safety, and open internet protections.
If you care about national power, consider that although the 12 nations make up two-fifths of the global economy, China is not included. The deal is a way for the United States to increase alliances with growing powers such as Australia, Vietnam and Japan at a time when China is staking dangerous claims to its power in the Pacific.
Critics like Senator Elizabeth Warren worry that the TPP is a giveaway to multinational corporations and that other countries would manipulate their currencies for advantage. These arguments don’t make sense.
In one example, pharmaceutical lobbyists wanted international expansion of the 12 years of patent protections guaranteed under U.S. law. Instead, the rules in the TPP only allow up to eight years, which will keep drug prices lower here. Likewise, currency policy has never been in trade deals, and no nation, including the U.S., would ever agree to a deal if it compromised that sovereignty.
Finally, Bernie Sanders opposed it on the grounds of protecting low-wage American manufacturers. But those kinds of jobs have fallen precipitously for decades and any president should instead focus on increasing Americans’ skills.
If the TPP lets the U.S. consumer buy goods that lift millions of Peruvian and Vietnamese workers out of poverty, that’s not bad at all. Remember, the biggest reductions in extreme poverty in the 20th century came when we opened trade with China and India.
The TPP won’t be decided on until 2016 and 2017. Given the latest polls, that may mean President Clinton, Sanders or Trump. If so, I hope they remove themselves from a campaigner’s mindset and see how a partnership for trade can expand American ideals and bring the world closer together.
Patrick Quinlan is a junior majoring in political science and international studies.
Featured image courtesy Pixabay user markusspiske.