The secret is out: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good deal for the United States.
It wasn’t supposed to be this easy—at least not according to the protectionists who believe Americans should isolate themselves from the global economy. For much of this year, these foes of free trade have complained about the “secrecy” of TPP.
“Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal?” asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, a few months ago. “Most likely, you haven’t—and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret.”
That sounds conspiratorial, even sinister.
The whole point of a democracy is to have open discussion about the great issues of the day. With the rare exception of vital national-security secrets, our government should operate with full transparency. When we debate the virtues of a trade pact such as TPP, we ought to know exactly what it says.
Now we do.
So why did Warren and her allies make such a fuss about secrecy? The answer is simple: It was a cynical ploy to smear the deal by politicians who already had decided to oppose it.
Members of Congress, in fact, enjoyed the ability to review the status of TPP all along by looking at classified documents that were unavailable to the public. This restriction made sense, of course. Delicate negotiations should be confidential when they’re happening.
Anybody who has tried to purchase a house understands this. Buyers don’t want sellers to know how much they’re willing to spend or whether the demand to replace the carpet in the rec room is a deal breaker.
Likewise, when our trade diplomats are pressing Japan to open its markets to U.S. farm products—one of the key achievements of TPP—both sides should enjoy the privilege of confidentiality until the agreement is complete.
Now that they’ve finished, TPP deserves total exposure and sharp scrutiny. And that’s exactly what we’re starting to see.
Not everybody is fair-minded, of course. Just a few hours after the supposedly secret TPP went on public view, Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, blasted the agreement. “In the end the TPP was worse than we thought it would be,” he said.
He’s talking about a document that is thousands of pages in length. Either he knew its “secret” contents all along or he’s a really fast reader.
Or maybe he hasn’t bothered to read the thing at all.
That would seem to describe Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. “The TPP is a horrible deal,” he announced at the last GOP debate, echoing what he has said previously.
Yet Trump went further: “It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” He then grumbled about America’s trade deficit with China and observed that TPP doesn’t address China’s “currency manipulation.”
At this point, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky spoke up: “You know, we might want to point out that China is not part of this deal … before we get a little off-kilter here.”
The exchange revealed Trump’s profound ignorance of TPP. Trump appeared to think that China is a party to the agreement, which it isn’t. China actually would love to see TPP fail because it would prefer to write the rules that will govern trade around the Pacific Rim in the 21st century.
So by opposing TPP, Trump actually serves China’s interests.
The candidate made matters worse last weekend in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Asked to name a single recent trade agreement that he liked, Trump replied: “I don’t like any of them.” No true free trader ever would say that.
The good news is that in the coming months, when politicians and pundits argue about trade in general and TPP in particular, we’ll be able to turn to the text and read it for ourselves. Nobody can issue misleading complaints about “secrecy” or get away with sheer ignorance about its true contents.
Let the public debate begin.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade & Technology / Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).