Ask George: What’s The Democratic View on Free Trade?

Trade Update • December 6, 2017

The issue of trade figured prominently in the 2016 presidential race, but certainly not in a positive way for proponents of trade liberalization and globalization.

Following a populist trend of rising economic nationalism, the leading candidates of both political parties over the 2016 campaign season routinely denounced the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership as being a complete “disaster” that would, so they claim, utterly devastate what remains of America’s manufacturing sector.

Likewise, other “destructive trade deals” such as the North American Free Trade Agreement also drew a lot of critical fire from the candidates, who conveniently blamed it for widespread job losses, de-industrialization and economic decline across the so-called “rust belt” of the United States.

In a rare moment of bipartisan concurrence, both candidates vowed to re-negotiate 23-year-old trade pact once the election concluded. In a stunning interview, Donald Trump told the New York Times that “If I don’t get a change, I would pull out of NAFTA in a split second … It’s the worst trade deal ever signed in the history of this country and one of the worst trade deals ever signed anywhere in the world.”

Whether the Trump administration holds true to their platform on trade remains to be seen. The following is the official Democratic platform on trade, prepared for the 2016 election, which is remarkably similar to that of the GOP. Read the 2016 Republican Party stance on free trade here.

The Democratic Party

Over the past three decades, America has signed too many trade deals that have not lived up to the hype. Trade deals often boosted the profits of large corporations, while at the same time failing to protect workers’ rights, labor standards, the environment, and public health. We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies that support jobs in America. That is why Democrats believe we should review agreements negotiated years ago to update them to reflect these principles. Any future trade agreements must make sure that our trading partners cannot undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment.

Democrats will fight to significantly strengthen enforcement of existing trade rules and the tools we have, including by holding countries accountable on currency manipulation and significantly expanding enforcement resources. China and other countries are using unfair trade practices to tilt the playing field against American workers and businesses. When they dump cheap products into our markets, subsidize state-owned enterprises, devalue currencies, and discriminate against American companies, our middle class pays the price. That has to stop. Democrats will use all our trade enforcement tools to hold China and other trading partners accountable—because no country should be able to manipulate their currencies to gain a competitive advantage.

While we believe that openness to the world economy is an important source of American leadership and dynamism, we will only approve new trade agreements if they support American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security. We believe any new trade agreements must include strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards in their core text. Trade agreements should crack down on the unfair and illegal subsidies other countries grant their businesses at the expense of ours. It should promote innovation of and access to lifesaving medicines. And it should protect a free and open internet. We should never enter into a trade agreement that prevents our government, or other governments, from putting in place rules that protect the environment, food safety, or the health of American citizens or others around the world.

These are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to any future trade agreements. On the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), there are [sic] a diversity of views in the party. Many Democrats are on record stating that the agreement does not meet the standards set out in this platform; other Democrats have expressed support for the agreement. But all Democrats believe that any trade agreement must protect workers and the environment and not undermine access to critically-needed prescription drugs.

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