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Good Trade Intentions Gone Bad

WASHINGTON, DC – The debate in the United States about trade has taken an unfortunate turn. Instead of discussing the detailed issues on their merits, President Barack Obama’s administration has chosen to emphasize the need for fast-track procedures (also known as trade promotion authority, or TPA) to negotiate any trade agreement. The administration may win that fight, but there could be real damage as a result.

The current battle is over the precise content of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a complex 12-country free-trade agreement. Unfortunately, the TPP’s provisions remain secret – meaning that it cannot be seen or discussed by members of the public. (Members of Congress may read the technical text, under restricted conditions, but are not allowed to describe its contents in detail.)

Anyone who raises legitimate concerns about any aspect of the TPP deal is immediately branded “protectionist.” The line from the White House is: TPP will lower barriers to US exports, and thus increase jobs and wages. Everything else, in this view, is a distraction.

In fact, TPP will do little for exports – and for an obvious reason. The US already has standard tariff-lowering agreements with almost all of the participating countries.