A Free Trader’s Case for Skepticism on Obama’s Trade Deal

Barack Obama
The Associated Press

I believe in free trade. I think the evidence is compelling that the free flow of goods and services makes Americans better off and is a fundamental national interest. It also reduces global poverty and increases the potential for liberty worldwide. The costs to jobs in some industries can be partly addressed by job growth in others. So I am on board, in theory, for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other deals, including with the EU. But I don’t think Obama has earned the trust for “fast-track.”

The case for free trade is compelling enough that it does not need to be made behind closed doors, in secret, with no real chance for public scrutiny of the details. There are reasons, indeed, to be very suspicious of such conditions.

The reason free trade with the EU has been so elusive, for example, despite obvious benefits on both sides of the Atlantic is that the U.S. would resist the maze of special-interest regulations made in Brussels–that is, unless, the details were hidden.

Perhaps the best reason to be suspicious is that Obama himself does not believe in free trade. As a Senator, he opposed nearly every free trade deal, and proudly boasted in The Audacity of Hope that he voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a snub to then-President George W. Bush. As president, he dragged his feet on implementing free trade deals already passed. He mocks Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for her “political” stance, but his is no different.

Furthermore, one detects the same urgency here that is driving Obama to conclude the Iran deal–an impulse to reach an agreement, regardless of the cost. There is a real reason for the urgency: China is building a trade empire in Asia while we dawdle. But Obama’s sudden rush is about his legacy, not the national interest. And he lied about the details of the Iran deal–even to his own staff.

As a free-trader, I also believe in the free flow of information. That’s why I am skeptical.