Fallout from Trade

As one of his first acts upon entering the Oval Office, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership. I think he did so in a cavalier manner, simply because President Obama’s administration had negotiated the deal. In fairness, Hillary said she’d withdraw too, although I hope that if she’d been elected, she’d have found a way to reconsider.

Neither political party has been honest with workers about what global trade means: even with an overall benefit to the country, some segments of the work force gain and some lose. Trump promised  a return to the 1950’s, when only American workers win. He’s no doing so well on that promise. The promise itself is neither realistic nor possible.

“For much of industrial America, the TPP was a suspect deal, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which some argue led to a massive offshoring of U.S. jobs to Mexico. But for the already struggling agricultural sector, the sprawling 12-nation TPP, covering 40 percent of the world’s economy, was a lifeline. It was a chance to erase punishing tariffs that restricted the United States—the onetime “breadbasket of the world”—from selling its meats, grains and dairy products to massive importers of foodstuffs such as Japan and Vietnam.”


Now that we’ve withdrawn, the fallout begins. No one is waiting for the Trump administration to fill out its trade team — right now, U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is in place but pretty much nobody else. No one is waiting for the U.S. to develop a new trade policy. Other countries are leaping to the fray, making deals while the U.S. dithers.

In his branding/marketing/reality TV business, Trump is used to dealing with one entity on the opposing side, and he’s used to dictating the pace. But that’s not how trade is negotiated these days. Bi-lateral deals are out; complex multi-lateral deals are in. We all know Trump doesn’t do complex, or long term, or strategic. He does simple, in the moment, transactional. People are going to wait a long time, if ever, for him to come up with something resembling a coherent trade policy.

Areas of the country slated to lose out under Trump’s cavalier approach to trade voted for him in a big way. I get that it’s hard for people to acknowledge they’ve been duped by a grifter and a showman, but the reality has to bite hard. We’ll see who they believe in the end, the bloviating Trump or their own eyes.

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