BRUSSELS – Recent political discourse on both sides of the Atlantic has raised a disturbing question that is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss: Are the United States and Europe turning away from the policies of openness that have historically driven their economic success?
In the US, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, is waging verbal war against virtually every trade agreement his country has ever struck. He has threatened to tear up the highly successful North American Free Trade Agreement and pledged to block any attempt to move forward with the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Should Trump’s views become part of the Republican Party’s platform, the shift will redraw the political landscape regarding free trade. After all, the Republicans have traditionally been the standard-bearers of free trade in the US – in contrast to the Democratic Party, which has had to contend with skeptical voices from the trade unions that make up part of its constituency.
Meanwhile, Trump’s likely opponent in the general election, Hillary Clinton, seems to have folded the flag and adopted at least part of the anti-trade tirades of Trump and her left-wing primary opponent, Bernie Sanders. Suddenly, she has turned against the TPP agreement, despite having supported it previously. She is opposing US President Barack Obama’s tentative plan to have it ratified by Congress immediately after the November election.