How to Free Trade

And Still Protect Democracy

Anti-trade graffiti in Brussels, Belgium, July 27, 2015. Francois Lenoir / Reuters

In the past, it was easy to make the case for free trade. Countries that reduced tariffs and opened their borders for new products and ideas were usually better off than those that shut their markets off. Free trade agreements seemed to create opportunities, help millions out of poverty, and generate growth. More trade, to cut a long story short, made the world a better place.

Today, a growing number of Europeans and Americans believe that the opposite is true. Free trade agreements have become increasingly unpopular. For example, last autumn, about 250,000 Germans demonstrated in Berlin against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the trade pact that is currently being negotiated between the United States and the European Union. Around 3.2 million Europeans signed a petition against it, saying that the EU was “trading away our public services, consumer protection, environmental standards, and in fact, our democracy.” The most prestigious association of judges, known as Deutscher Richterbund, also recently spoke out against an important component of TTIP, a clause on settling trade disputes, arguing that it had “neither a legal basis nor was necessary.”

In the United States, meanwhile, there have been similar protests against the Transatlantic Partnership Agreement (TPP), which Washington signed with 11 Pacific Rim countries but that the U.S. Congress has yet to ratify. Protestors have also argued that the deal “undermines democracy” and allows corporate power to thwart environment and labor protections, as well as the right to free Internet. All the leading presidential candidates have spoken out against it: on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has said that she “opposes” TPP, and her party rival, Bernie Sanders, promises that he “will do all” he can to defeat it. Meanwhile, Republican Donald Trump trashes it, calling it a “horrible deal.”

The foreign policy and trade elites usually regard these opinions with contempt. The German Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel portrayed the TTIP protesters as “hysterical.” His American colleagues dismiss them as a bizarre return of

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