The big winner in Canada’s national elections this week wasn’t the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party. Instead, it was the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free-trade agreement concluded earlier this month.
In a recent CBC poll, only 40 percent of respondents said that TPP would benefit Canadians. This week, however, parties that back TPP won more than 70 percent of the vote.
Both Justin Trudeau of the victorious Liberals and incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the defeated Conservatives embraced a trade deal that promises to link countries around the Pacific Rim. Others in Canada have opposed it fiercely, including the New Democratic Party, which at one point even led the polls but wound up with fewer than 20 percent of the votes.
By rejecting protectionism so close to elections, Trudeau and Harper took risks to put the interests of Canada in front of potential partisan advantage.
So I’m giving a “Profile in Courage” award to both men. I’d like to do the same with leaders in Japan and the United States, who have pushed for TPP at a time when it might have been easier to lie low.
The complete details of TPP have yet to emerge, but I’m confident that most people will come to recognize its terrific advantages, whether they’re wheat farmers in Saskatchewan or consumers in Saigon. As trade barriers erode, we’ll all pay less money for food, goods, and services.
For me—a farmer in landlocked Iowa—I see TPP as a tremendous opportunity. Half of what I grow ships overseas. I depend on customers I’ll never meet. If Congress approves the agreement, farmers will export more as we gain preferential access to 11 other countries.
The benefits will be especially great with Japan. When TPP goes into full force, Japan will wipe out nearly one-third of its agricultural tariffs. Most of the rest will be reduced or phased out over time.
That’s why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also deserves credit for political bravery. He has shown his determination to modernize the Japanese economy—and to open its powerful agricultural sector to competition from people like me.
In recent months, Abe has suffered from disapproval ratings of higher than 50 percent. And yet he has pushed ahead with TPP, knowing that it holds the potential to enrage special-interest groups that demand protectionism.
He’s choosing the right thing for his country, rather than the easy thing.
U.S. President Barack Obama should win kudos as well. For years, he has pushed for TPP, even though most of his fellow Democrats oppose it. Hillary Clinton, for example, supported TPP when she was Obama’s secretary of state. Now that she’s running for president, however, she’s against it. Her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has nothing good to say about TPP. At last week’s debate, he condemned U.S. trade policies as “disastrous.”
On the Republican side, Donald Trump, who has led his party’s polls for months, condemned TPP even before it was done being negotiated. Two weeks ago, he slammed the finished product as “a terrible deal.” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell didn’t go nearly that far, but he observed that “serious concerns have been raised on a number of issues.”
So by promoting TPP, Obama flies into strong political headwinds. His biggest test will come in Congress, where most members of his own party will fight against TPP and many Republicans will reject it simply for partisan reasons. He’ll have to stitch together a coalition of the sensible, which he has struggled to do in the past.
Many people have strong opinions about Obama. In this case, though, we should all admit that he has acted with boldness.
Around the world, voters complain that public officials often make decisions based on political expediency and narrow-mindedness rather than high principle and the common good.
When they do the wrong thing, for whatever reason, they should face fair-minded criticism. When they do the right thing—as Canada’s Trudeau and Harper, Japan’s Abe, and America’s Obama have done—we should be sure to applaud their statesmanship.
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. Bill volunteers as a board member and serves as Chairman for Truth About Trade & Technology / Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).