AMONG THE many unfortunate aspects of the 2016 presidential campaign has been the bashing of “trade deals” by candidates across the political spectrum, including those who should know better, like the Democratic front-runner, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. As matters now stand, the next president — whether it’s Ms. Clinton, her Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or the Republican, Donald Trump — will be someone who opposes President Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with 11 nations. The TPP’s best chance at passage might be during the lame-duck session between the election and Inauguration Day, when Mr. Obama will still be in office and Congress will still be dominated by past supporters of the measure.
In case anyone campaigning for office in the meantime is interested in them, some fresh facts about the TPP have just emerged showing why the case against it — that it would “steal” jobs from hard-pressed American workers, as previous such agreements have purportedly done — is so badly overblown. A definitive 800-page estimate of the agreement’s impact on the American economy by the U.S. International Trade Commission shows that, by 2032, the TPP would raise U.S. annual real income by $57.3 billion above what it would have been otherwise, and it would create 128,000 full-time jobs. Given the enormous size of the U.S. economy, of course, these are modest improvements indeed: less than a percentage point in each case. Still, a net positive is a net positive.
The wins and losses would not be evenly distributed across all economic sectors. Agriculture and services would account for most of the income and job gains, reflecting the deal’s prying open of Japan’s previously closed markets. Output in manufacturing, natural resources and energy would fall by $10.8 billion (0.1 percent), reflective, in part, of greater imports of light manufactured goods such as footwear from Vietnam. U.S. automobile output and employment would grow slightly.
As was the case with previous agreements, the benefits of freer trade under the TPP would be diffuse and barely perceptible by the many, many people among whom they are distributed, but the costs would be concentrated and intensely felt. That economic reality creates a political one; indeed, it’s the political reality that accounts for some of the candidates’ posturing. Beyond economics, however, the agreement promises strategic benefits, including closer integration of the U.S. and East Asian markets and the establishment of U.S.-style market rules across a wide and wealthy region of the world where China is attempting to promote a neo-mercantilist playbook more to its advantage.
Those kinds of considerations used to matter to anyone serious about aspiring to the presidency of the United States and the global leadership that role entails. We can only hope that, whatever happens in November, they ultimately prevail.