Politico: What’s Actually in ObamaTrade

Barack Obama
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

From Politico:

Vietnam slaps tariffs of 70 percent on U.S. cars and machinery, 35 percent on U.S. chemicals, 30 percent on U.S. biscuits and baked goods, and 25 percent on U.S. recording equipment. Japan marks up our oranges 16 percent from June through November and 32 percent from December through May; it marks up our beef exports 38.5 percent all year long. Cars made in America face a 30 percent tariff in Malaysia, which might not seem stiff compared to 50 percent on motorcycles or 35 percent on plywood, except that cars made in Japan and other Asian nations don’t face any tariff in Malaysia.

These burdensome overseas tariffs, provided to POLITICO by US Trade Representative Michael Froman, are the kind of problems President Obama hopes to address with the free trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not yet been finalized but has recently erupted into one of the most contentious topics on Washington’s agenda.

The public debate has focused on the adequacy of TPP’s environmental and labor safeguards, its potential to feather the nests of well-connected pharmaceutical, software and finance interests, and the secrecy of its negotiations. But the heart of the deal is an effort by the twelve participating countries to phase out tariffs and other export barriers for more than 11,000 categories of commodities, and Froman is frustrated that isn’t getting more attention. In an interview with POLITICO, he said export-supported U.S. jobs pay 13 to 18 percent more than the average job, and argued that freer trade along the Pacific Rim would create a lot more of them.

So I asked if Froman would give me a rundown of actual tariffs he’s trying to remove, and he agreed. Global tariffs are not secret information—they’re kept on file at the World Customs Organization, and Froman has mentioned a few in speeches—but they’re rarely seen in large quantities outside technical reports, and Froman hopes that taking a bunch of examples public will help build support for TPP. The deal is not done yet, so Froman can’t discuss how much the various import restrictions he cited will be reduced, but the point of the negotiations is to reduce them. There are plenty of legitimate concerns about free trade and TPP that have nothing to do with tariffs, some of them highlighted in a critique in POLITICO last week  by a Democrat who read a draft, but Froman believes most Americans would at least back the administration’s efforts to tear down these tariffs.

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