Washington state residents must hope that Hillary Clinton is pulling our leg and will end up supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership if she’s elected president.
This is a sorry state of affairs: hoping a politician flip-flops.
Yet the alternative is sadly much worse. Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has threatened to scrap existing trade agreements if they couldn’t be reworked and raise tariffs. Instead of restoring jobs across the heartland, this would start a punishing trade war just as the economy is expected to slow.
Transcending this awful election season is the importance of trade and agreements that improve America’s economy and project its values and influence around the world. They are critically important to Washington state – where 40 percent of jobs depend on trade – and for the rest of the nation.
Clinton has changed her mind once on the TPP deal, so there’s reason for hope. That’s a safer bet than the knee-jerk isolationism of Trump, who displays a startling lack of diplomacy and understanding of global affairs.
As secretary of state, Clinton was a strong advocate for the TPP, a sweeping agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries around the Pacific.
The TPP is not perfect but its net effect would be positive. It would abolish child labor and create enforceable work standards, including workplace-safety standards and rights to unionize. Member nations would be required to enforce environmental laws.
The TPP would eliminate more than 18,000 taxes and trade barriers. That aligns with Clinton’s pledge to grow U.S. incomes with stronger, fairer and long-term growth.
Take Washington apples: Washington exports about a third of its apples, and the Asia-Pacific region is the world’s fastest growing economic region. In Vietnam, where the World Bank expects particularly strong growth, a 10-percent tariff is applied to U.S. apples. They compete against Australia and New Zealand apples that are duty-free, because those countries have a separate trade agreement. The TPP would level the field and grow our agricultural industry that employs more than 100,000 Washingtonians.
The TPP would also strengthen America’s position via economic diplomacy in a region overshadowed by China.
Clinton in the past said the TPP was worthwhile even though it wouldn’t please everyone. She emphasized that compromises are required when making such agreements.
TPP terms were finalized after Clinton left the administration, giving her an opening to change her mind. Still, her late 2015 decision to oppose the pact appears blatantly political, improving her chances against TPP opponent Bernie Sanders and garnering support from labor organizations.
She can oppose TPP as a candidate. But she should be prepared to uphold it if President Barack Obama gets it passed by Congress before his term ends.
During last week’s debate, Clinton still defended the value of strong trade agreements. She echoed the White House TPP pitch: 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S., and we need agreements to trade with them.
These are not ordinary business deals that can be renegotiated by a blustery real-estate mogul. Trade agreements are evolving, multilateral partnerships negotiated over years. They bring order, predictability and higher standards to billions of people and trillions of dollars of economic activity.
Tossing such agreements aside would not restore jobs and economic security to Americans hurt by overseas competition, automation and the widening income gap.
Americans need more opportunity. They need more and better education to succeed in a more competitive marketplace. They need to be able to launch or work for companies that can thrive in the global economy, without being propped up by ephemeral trade barriers.
Customers and growth to support American workers and companies will come largely from overseas – Asia is now the engine of world growth.
America cannot turn the clock back to 1960 and restore the manufacturing jobs lost to globalization. Chasing nostalgia and dismantling pacts that enable freer and fairer trade is economic suicide.
The U.S. would decline as the rest of the world evolves. New leaders would emerge to shepherd the agreements binding nations and determining whether they'll benefit from each other’s growth, output and ideas.
Politically expedient isolationism would make ancient empires great again.
If America gives up its leadership role shaping trade policies, and using them to project its influence and maintain stability, China and Russia would be more than ready to fill the void.