For decades, free trade has been a boon to the American economy, injecting capital into our markets and spurring job creation. But amidst negotiations for two major trade deals, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), there are a select few who are seeking to obstruct any progress on expanding free trade and growing our economy. The most recent example comes in the form of an op-ed written by Brian O’Shaughnessy in the Daily Caller, which, while well-intentioned, mischaracterizes just about every aspect of the debate.
O’Shaughnessy argues that free trade is harming the American people, but his reasoning does not stand up to the facts. He goes to great length to besmirch free trade, but conveniently forgoes any mention of how intertwined it is with the American economy. Just imagine the impact in the marketplace if our country reverted to isolationist policies that restricted U.S.-based employers from freely and easily engaging in commerce with foreign allies. Free trade is the lifeblood of our economy — more than 38 million jobs in the United States depend on trade, roughly one in five jobs.
The truth of the matter is that free trade creates jobs by reducing barriers for products made in United States, thereby boosting U.S. exports. America makes top-notch products and we should not be afraid to let our companies compete in the global marketplace. The trade surplus was $58 billion for U.S. manufactured goods in 2012. More than 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States and the notion that easier access to these consumers harms America is disconnected from reality.
In addition to relying on voodoo economics, O’Shaughnessy attempts to appeal to conservatives by falsely stating that granting trade promotion authority (TPA) to the president would give him the power to negotiate “in secret with limited transparency and little Congressional review.” TPA is a tool that has been used by every president since Franklin Roosevelt (with the exception of the sitting one) to fast-track trade agreements. Without TPA, the negotiating process is painstakingly slow. And contrary to O’Shaughnessy’s claims, TPA actually strengthens congressional oversight by establishing rules and requirements by which the president must abide. Moreover, any trade agreement must be passed by Congress, meaning that the president must frequently consult with the legislative branch in order to gain enough support to pass any accord.
The most egregious of Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s overstatements is his portrayal of Republicans as a group that is stringently opposed to free trade agreements and TPA. This is really grasping at straws. In support of this outlandish claim, O’Shaughnessy cites a poll that was paid for – in part – by liberal groups, such as the Sierra Club and the Communication Workers of America (CWA), not exactly the most reliable of sources on conservative viewpoints, left-of-center environmentalists and organized labor.
This directly contradicts a recent poll from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) that states “80 percent believe that the President and Congress should work together to put in place new trade agreements.” Traditionally, only organized labor, the radical left and those less interested in facts but more open to conspiracy theories have stood in opposition to free trade agreements. This contrasts starkly with conservative icons, starting with President Ronald Reagan, who made free trade agreements a core principle of their agenda – one that endures in today’s Republican Party. It is unreasonable and unsubstantiated to suggest, as Mr. O’Shaughnessy does, that conservatives don’t support free trade.
It isn’t just conservatives, though; an overwhelming majority of Americans support free trade precisely because they understand its immense benefit. Given the state of the economy, it is imperative that we allow for trade promotion authority and pass these individual agreements, so that our country can continue to remain the world’s preeminent economic superpower. If we fail to act, then China surely will, stealing coveted opportunities from American businesses resulting in less employment opportunities and greater hardship.
While it is certainly true that some aspects of TPP and TTIP have been poorly handled thus far, the economic advantages of these two free trade agreements nevertheless still outweigh the risks, particularly considering the important check Congress has on the process. Trade Promotion Authority will not be the silver bullet in finalizing these two deals, but it is an important stepping stone to getting them done. Every day we hear that the economy is global and we must compete with our neighbors, free trade accomplishes that very goal and is something everyone – particularly conservatives – should continue to support.
Stephen DeMaura is president of Americans for Job Security.