Editorial: Parties wrong to toss aside free trade

The Detroit News

Republicans and Democrats have found one thing they agree on: protectionism. Like at the GOP convention in Cleveland, Democratic delegates in Philadelphia covered their shirts and backpacks with No TPP stickers to express their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

TPP, which President Barack Obama spearheaded and Hillary Clinton originally supported along with most Republican lawmakers, will almost certainly become the first casualty of the shared, growing disdain for free trade, no matter who becomes president in November.

And that will damage American interests globally, and hamper hopes for stemming China’s growing influence in the Pacific Rim.

Prodded by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton is now embracing the misguided notion that TPP and other trade deals hurt American workers and their wages.

This week, UAW President Dennis Williams said he believes Clinton would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has already promised to do so.

Both parties are ignoring the decades of global prosperity — much of it centered in the United States — free trade agreements have helped stimulate.

The issue is particularly ripe in Michigan, where large numbers of union workers feel free trade has stolen their jobs. But the anger misses the mark.

Free trade is the scapegoat for larger forces that have pushed manufacturing out of the country. Lower prices for consumer goods and access to new markets has benefited workers in the United States and elsewhere in a number of ways.

NAFTA, which President Bill Clinton signed, has allowed states like Michigan to become a top exporter in new industries and old, including first in motor vehicles, parts, bodies and trailers, and glass products. While it sometimes has put downward competition on jobs and wages in the auto industry, it also has helped that industry remain competitive and alive in the U.S. And as the industry has rebounded, so have jobs and wages.

The TPP would be an historic pact between the United States and Pacific Rim nations, Canada, and Mexico that would streamline international commerce and boost 40 percent of the global economy by $285 billion in 10 years. The U.S. International Trade Commission says it would lift U.S. gross domestic product by almost $43 billion by 2032, and increase employment by 128,000 full-time jobs.

And as beneficial as the TPP would be for the U.S. economy, it’s also critical America take a lead role in the pact’s passage and enforcement. An American void here could allow China to gain influence in that region and work against U.S. interests.

The TPP would eliminate taxes, quotas and other governmental hang ups to freer trade, and it would put pressure on China to conduct business in line with the values of the U.S. and other involved nations.

There is room for debate on whether or not the TPP should address currency manipulation. It’s a point Trump has hounded, and Detroit automakers continue to lobby hard to address in the pact.

But a side agreement could deal with these valid concerns without holding up the TPP’s passage.

Anti-free-trade talk from our presidential candidates may be effective in winning votes, but it will damage the U.S. economy and America’s economic influence.