Trump Says He’ll Abandon Trade. What Happens Next?

Written by SK Ashby

Despot-elect Donald Trump says he will withdraw from trade negotiations after taking office and abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership which is supported by President Obama and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

If he does that, what happens next?

The Wall Street Journal reports that a group of nations that would have signed the U.S.-backed partnership will probably sign China's trade pact instead, which excludes the U.S., and China's trade agreement will not benefit labor or consumers in America or the countries that would have signed TPP.

[Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership] members will trade more with China, squeezing their economic and strategic ties to the U.S. The White House Council of Economic Advisers this month assessed that if RCEP passes in place of TPP at least 35 U.S. industries that annually export $5.3 billion in goods to Japan “would see an erosion of their market access to Japan relative to Chinese firms.” This would affect 162,000 U.S. businesses that employ five million U.S. workers—and that’s only counting exports to Japan, one of seven TPP countries also involved in RCEP.

In a further self-inflicted wound, the death of TPP and the rise of RCEP would also give U.S. firms greater incentive to outsource production to RCEP countries where, unlike in the U.S., they could get preferential access to Asia’s booming markets. Such are the unintended consequences of America’s rising protectionism.

Unfortunately, our despot-elect is not alone in whipping up a misguided furor over a trade agreement that almost no critic can substantively oppose. Most of the general public who oppose it probably have no idea what "TPP" even stands for.

Labor unions, Bernie Sanders, and even Hillary Clinton also opposed the trade agreement. I suspect the latter did so for mostly short-term political reasons, but I can't say as much for the former. Bernie Sanders also opposes the Export-Import Bank which finances American-made exports. Senator Elizabeth Warren also criticized the partnership for being "secret" even though, as a member of Congress, she has full access to the current text of the agreement.

What all of the agreement's critics have in common is that they cannot specifically say how it will hurt Americans, only that it needs to be "better." Neither I or anyone in the general public has read the full agreement (because it isn't finished and hasn't been published) so obviously I can't say it's flawless, but there's one thing I can say that critics evidently cannot. I trust that President Obama would not sell out American workers. He never has before and there's no reason to believe he would now.

My understanding and sympathy for the political opposition to the trade agreement only extends so far before I'm forced to call it what it is. It's stupid and cynical. At least some critics know better, but it's not advantageous for them to say so right now.

The lives and livelihoods of workers will not improve after the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead. They may actually suffer.

President Obama has repeatedly reminded us that China will set the rules if we don't. If you can't see how ironic and stupid it is that we've elected an anti-China critic who is promising to give China a competitive advantage immediately after he takes office by withdrawing from a trade agreement that doesn't even include China, it's possible no amount of explaining or evidence to the contrary will persuade you.