By Robert Weiner and Thekla Truebenbach
The United States has trade relations with more than 75 countries throughout the world. To America and all countries, export and import markets count. "Frankly, if you don't trade, you hurt consumers. If you don't trade, you hurt innovation. If you don't trade, you withdraw from the world." said Governor John Kasich of Ohio at the White House press briefing on September 16, 2016 on America's potential support of the most recent trade deal, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). Because many policy makers think that way, there have been a variety of other trade deals the U.S. helped engineer, the most significant one being The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Trade deals are a major issue in the presidential campaign. Trump, Clinton, and Sanders reached a rare agreement by now opposing TPP. Clinton and
What actually makes a good or bad trade deal for the United States? Few talk about the specific criteria. What effect do the deals have on wages and jobs? Will there be impacts to the environment -- will these deals strain it even more? What per cent of product has to be from the USA for the branding of something sold overseas to be legitimately "made in the USA?" While the deals are kept secret until the end by the usual "Fast Track" process in Congress, these are all questions which cannot be a secret when citizens are supposed to be able to tell their representatives and the President how to proceed in the country's best interest.
TPP is a rare instance of Trump, Clinton, and Sanders all opposing something--they all are against the deal -- and an even more rare instance of Obama flying solo. Even his strong first Congressional supporter, Dean of the House and Congressional Black Caucus co-founder John Conyers (D-Detroit), told us on his way to a White House meeting, "I'm going to tell the President to lighten up on TPP."
TPP aims at strengthening the economic relationship between the U.S. and 11 other countries. It will lead to slashed tariffs and a very strong union of world trade. The 12 countries involved have double the population of the European Union, which shows just how powerful this alliance is. The contract was signed in February 2016 by negotiators but is yet to be ratified by legislatures before it can come into force.
NAFTA came into force in 1994 and is a deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It regulates trade and investment for these three nations. Trump, a strong opponent of trade deals in general, called NAFTA "one of the worst deals ever made of any kind of signed by anybody" in the third presidential debate on October 20. Also Hillary Clinton stated her opinion clearly on TTP in this debate: "It didn't meet my test. I've had the same test -- does it create jobs, raise incomes and further our national security? I'm against it now, I'll be against it after the election, I'll be against it when I'm president." But do they have a point?
Why are the candidates opposed to President Obama on this usually bipartisan issue that Bill Clinton triangulated and got passed? Is it factual results we have learned over time? There definitely are legitimate aspects that do not make these trade deals good deals. Especially TTP has been criticized for not being very transparent. Most negotiations on the deal happened behind closed doors. Because of that, voters do not only not know what to cast their votes for and why, but this secretiveness makes it hard for people not involved in governmental practices to fully understand the details of these deals.
Critics state that Americans are losing their jobs as companies decide to relocate their production to countries with lower wages and employ foreign workers for less money. We cannot compete against countries with a $2 hourly rate when ours is at $7.50, maybe going up to $15.
Also, many environmentalists claim that the trade deals are a big strain while producing more and more goods. There are agreements in the TTP contract on how to protect the environment, but it is uncertain whether they will be implemented. Conyers remembers leading a congressional delegation to Mexico before NAFTA was approved and "seeing raw sewage flowing." It was not corrected.
For a product to be considered made in the U.S., all or virtually all the product has to be made in America according to the Federal Trade Commission's standard. The Commission's website says: "All or virtually all means that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. That is, the product should contain no -- or negligible -- foreign content." The number of American made products could further decrease with foreign products flooding the U.S. market due to trade deals. " Today, we import nearly $800 billion more in goods than we export," said Donald Trump June 28.
Trading off these legitimate negative arguments against positive ones makes voters understand that the real deal on trade deals lies somewhere in between.