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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Opinion >  Editorial

Outside View: Free trade is American way

The following editorial from the Columbian (Vancouver, Washington) does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.

During a recent press conference, President Barack Obama illuminated the reality underlying the rhetoric surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership: “After the election is over and the dust settles, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal and it won’t just be a political symbol or a political football.”

The proposed trade agreement, which was carved out between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, certainly has become a political symbol. Donald Trump, in keeping with his isolationist policies, has long decried trade agreements. Hillary Clinton, drawn into anti-trade dogma by the Bernie Sanders wing of her party, has backed off from her previous support of the deal.

Given the on-the-ground impact of previous trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, caution on the part of the public is understandable. That made Obama’s defense of the Trans-Pacific Partnership particularly meaningful as he acknowledged legitimate concerns about the deal while extolling its virtues. “They are coming from a sincere concern about the position of workers and wages in this country,” Obama said at a press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “But I think I’ve got the better argument, and I have the evidence to support it.”

Some of that evidence was provided by Lee, who noted that the United States’ impact in a dynamic region of the world is partly dependent upon Congress approving the partnership. The deal, Lee said, is a test of U.S. “credibility and seriousness of purpose.” That credibility is essential to stemming the growing influence of China, which is not party to the trade deal.

As Bloomberg View recently wrote editorially: “The U.S. will be the TPP’s largest economic beneficiary in absolute terms. Its provisions have the potential to advance long-standing progressive goals on labor and the environment, dismantle a thicket of protectionist regulations, and reignite global trade liberalization largely on U.S. terms.” For Washington, the nation’s most trade-dependent state, this is particularly important. The partnership would eliminate some 18,000 tariffs levied by foreign governments upon goods exported from the United States, and an inordinate percentage of those goods are made or grown in Washington – or travel through the state’s ports.

Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is understandable. There is much frustration about the U.S. economy and the acute loss of manufacturing jobs in this nation. But insisting upon isolationist or protectionist economic policy is not the cure for those frustrations. The United States remains the world’s largest economy, and opening global markets will provide exponential benefits to that economy.

The deal, of course, is imperfect. Any pact that tries to balance the economic desires of 12 disparate nations is certain to offer concerns as well as benefits for each involved party. But the current anti-trade philosophy that is growing roots in this nation is troublesome.

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