Obama, GOP can now partner on one project: trade pacts

After this midterm election, a new Republican-led Congress can start to build trust with President Obama by striking a deal on proposed trade pacts with Asia and Europe. The US needs such bipartisanship to spur growth and shape global values.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman (L) speaks during the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) meeting of trade representatives in Sydney Oct. 27.

One of America’s gifts has been its spirit of openness, such as in trade or in the exchange of ideas. It should be in that spirit that President Obama and a new Congress controlled by Republicans should open a door to each other – and strike a deal to expand trade with Asia and Europe. 

Such cooperation might set a precedent for the kind of bipartisanship in Washington that many voters sought in the midterm elections. Exit polls revealed a displeasure with both parties.

The world needs US leadership right now to push back against creeping trade protectionism in many nations. More trade would help give a jolt to a sluggish global economy. And China’s model of state-manipulated markets – or mercantilism – needs to be challenged. For centuries, the West’s success in creating free markets has been the main driver for reducing poverty around the world – even in China. 

After the 2010 midterm elections, Mr. Obama and the GOP were able to pass three trade pacts with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama. In the same bipartisan spirit, President Clinton and a Republican Congress agreed in 1994 to pass a pact that set up the World Trade Organization. The United States has a long history of nonpartisan cooperation on free trade, not just for its economic benefit but also the democratic values it helps spread. It is time to revive it again.

Currently, Obama is negotiating two proposed trade pacts. One, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, would expand trade with 12 countries, mainly in Asia, that encompass 40 percent of the global economy. The other, called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, would be between the US and the European Union.

To complete the deals, the president needs Congress to agree that it will allow only an up-or-down vote on each pact. Otherwise countries will not make the compromises needed in such difficult trade talks. In granting the president that authority, the GOP could set a tone of trust that could lead to other compromises on legislation.

Both parties have a stake in ensuring the world continues to draw closer through trade. A recent poll done in 44 countries by the Washington-based Pew Research Center found 81 percent of those surveyed said trade was good for their economies.

As US trade representative Michael Froman said in a recent speech: “US trade policy is a central part of what may be the most consequential strategic project of our time: revitalizing the post-World War II international economic order.” 

A bit more order is overdue in Washington, too.

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