Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both campaigned against the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), a trade deal between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Why? That was unclear. But based on opposition it would either hurt the economy or hurt the environment.
The reality is that trade helps us. It lowers the cost of things that we buy, from gas to homes to cell phones. By lowering the cost of those goods, free trade increases our buying power. Or, put more bluntly, it allows us to buy more with less. This raises our standard of living.
Historically, lower tariffs (taxes on goods coming into this country) were an issue supported by more populist candidates. Back then people knew that higher-priced booze, cotton and wood hurt them. Big companies liked high taxes on goods coming here because it allowed them to charge inflated prices for goods made here.
What about claims that free trade ships jobs to Mexico, China and other places? Some of that is true. Companies have shifted production (and thus jobs) to Mexico and then shipped those — now cheaper — goods back here. But global competition — competition that we weren’t going to stop — was already lowering prices and American manufacturers had to compete. In other words those jobs were leaving one way or another. They could go to Mexico or just go away period.
We don’t live on an island or in a vacuum and we aren’t going to stop the Chinese from making cheap goods and shipping them all over the world. This means that we can compete or try and throw up a wall. Could we stop them from shipping them here? Sure, we could, and then we’d have much more expensive things and become less competitive worldwide and our economy would not grow as fast. The result would be fewer jobs created.
From 1990 to today, the U.S. economy has doubled in size. Doubled. Our economy is 30 percent of the world’s economy. Yet we’re about 4.4 percent of the world’s people.
The Trans Pacific Partnership wasn’t about shipping jobs to Australia or Chile or Vietnam; it was about creating a trading bloc to rival China.
Now we’re less economically secure and no jobs have been saved. If we want America first, then we need to lead and we need to lead by being competitive. We lead by innovating and by being more productive. We lead by being free to trade with our neighboring countries. And that’s how we really win.