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The Truth About Trade

What Critics Get Wrong About the Global Economy

A container ship enters New York Harbor, November 2015. Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Just because a U.S. presidential candidate bashes free trade on the campaign trail does not mean that he or she cannot embrace it once elected. After all, Barack Obama voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a U.S. senator and disparaged the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a presidential candidate. In office, however, he came to champion the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a giant trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Yet in the current election cycle, the rhetorical attacks on U.S. trade policy have grown so fiery that it is difficult to imagine similar transformations. The Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has railed against “disastrous” trade agreements, which he claims have cost jobs and hurt the middle class. The Republican Donald Trump complains that China, Japan, and Mexico are “killing” the United States on trade thanks to the bad deals struck by “stupid” negotiators.

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