Don't Hate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Because It's Imperfect

Yes, the TPP contains some protectionist policies. Daniel Ikenson thinks it's still worth supporting.


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"[The Trans-Pacific Partnership] is a mixed bag," says Daniel Ikenson, director of the Cato Institute's Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies. Ikenson's latest analysis, Should Free Traders Support the Trans-Pacific Partnership? An Assessment of America's Largest Preferential Trade Agreement, offers an in-depth look at the most important trade agreement in decades.

"Our conclusion is that it's got some baked-in protectionism. There's a lot of liberalization. On par, it's net liberalizing. It will expand our economic freedoms. And my colleagues and I, my co-authors and I, support it."

Daniel Ikenson

Not since the election year of 1992 has an international trade agreement been such a hot-button issue. Twenty-four years ago, the prospect of ratifying of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during a national recession dominated the headlines. NAFTA galvanized the independent candidacy of the charismatic Texas billionaire Ross Perot, and put his protectionist platform squarely into the public consciousness.

On Election Day, Perot's candidacy failed. But the same anxieties that formed around his "giant sucking sound" siphoning away manufacturing jobs to Mexico, has lived on. Shorn of the characteristic Texas twang with which they were delivered, the trade-phobic arguments Perot offered the American public are being echoed by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, stirring up popular opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

So, what to make of the TPP? With thirty chapters and thirteen Pacific rim nations signed on, the scope of the agreement is wide, stretching from tariffs to labor policy to state-owned enterprises to environmental regulations. Ikenson's report details and grades every chapter of the agreement, turning dry legalese into legible language with clear recommendations.

In the end, Ikenson supports the TPP and advocates for its ratification. Its main selling point is that it opens up international markets and sets many tariffs to zero. Hs overall positive take comes with reservations about the treatment of intellectual property and the political compromises behind "managed trade".

Despite these issues, Ikenson's recommendation of the TPP comes with a dose of political realism. It's a familiar caveat in the world of modern trade agreements: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Produced, edited, and hosted by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Joshua Swain and Austin Bragg.

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