Conservatives & Progressives Can Agree on Trade

by Roy Allen Howell

Political parties don't agree on a lot, but if this year's election has taught us anything, it's that opposition to free trade is not drawn on party lines. Fortunately, that means support for trade isn't either.

It's not a good year for trade when candidates of both major parties (not only those for president) campaign on rejecting trade agreements and raising trade barriers. While, in the short-term, that's not good news for free trade, prior to the last few decades, the consensus had broadly favored greater global economic liberalization, and experts on both sides of the aisle still have a lot to agree on when it comes to opening up to trade. One example: that trade has lifted up billions here in the U.S. and around the world.

Here are Ambassador Terry Miller and Bryan Riley of the conservative Heritage Foundation in a 2015 policy backgrounder:

A comparison of economic performance and trade scores in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom demonstrates the importance of trade freedom for prosperity and well-being. Countries with the most trade freedom have higher per capita incomes, lower rates of hunger in their populations, and cleaner environments.

 

That sounds awfully similar to a policy memo released this week by Ed Gerwin of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI):

[T]rade raises U.S. living standards, significantly boosting the buying power of middle- and lower-income American consumers, while also playing a vital role in lifting some one billion people worldwide out of extreme poverty.

 

And while trade policy solutions may not look exactly the same, folks across the ideological spectrum can at least agree on what not to do: abandoning trade partnerships and initiating a trade war.

The PPI report goes on to say:

[I]ll-considered protectionist proposals like upending NAFTA or slapping high tariffs on imports would severely impact millions of Americans whose livelihoods depend on trade and global supply chains.

 

Dan Griswold, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center and former director of trade studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, similarly had this to say about proposals to leave NAFTA:

Withdrawing from NAFTA would be a disaster for the United States . . . Overturning this successful, 2-decade-old commercial agreement would disrupt supply chains and put millions of current U.S. jobs at risk. It would make U.S. companies less competitive in global markets, reducing U.S. imports, exports, output and employment.

 

If conservatives, progressives, and libertarians can at least agree that trade makes day-to-day goods more affordable, supports better paying jobs, and spurs inclusive economic growth, free traders of all political affiliations should be optimistic that a bipartisan consensus can again be built for future trade liberalization.

 

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