The facts are on his side. The U.S. is the world's largest trading nation. Exports support more than 11 million good jobs, which pay about 18 percent above the national average.
Public opinion is also behind him. In the latest Gallup poll, 58 percent saw increased trade "as an opportunity for economic growth." Only 1 in 3 see trade as "a threat to the economy."
"The American people," concludes
But organized labor, a key Democratic constituency, won't listen to those facts. Union chiefs harbor a theological opposition to trade that defies reason or reality. And their allies on
Obama's challenge is to make sure a worldview that blindly rejects the virtues of "a more open global economy" does not dictate national policy.
The first battle will be over a bill called
The idea is that no trade partner will make concessions to U.S. negotiators if they know that
Of course, there are losers as well as winners in a dynamic global marketplace. The losers tend to be companies making low-end goods like textiles and toys that can be produced in other countries at much lower cost. And it's easy for trade opponents to take pictures of shuttered plants and jobless workers and rail against the evils of outsourcing.
But those trends are inevitable and unstoppable and no trade deal — or lack of one — will deter them. As Obama noted, "Companies that are looking for just low-cost labor, they've already left."
Since those jobs are not coming back, we're left with two options. Option 1: Compensate communities and workers damaged by economic forces we cannot contain. And the trade promotion bill does extend a program that has provided that compensation since 1975.
Option 2: Embrace opportunity and take advantage of a worldwide economy that is growing more integrated every day. Prime Minister
"I will be able to show," Obama said, "when the final agreement is presented, that this is absolutely good for not just American businesses, but for American workers. And it's good for the economy and it's the right thing to do."
Yes it is. Start with the basic issue: opening foreign markets to American goods from beef and rice to cars and computers.
But the "fastest-growing" sector of the export market is not goods; it's services: insurance and finance, law and consulting. In assessing the potential impact of the Asian deal, the
The whole conversation about trade is stuck in a time warp. Unions want to talk about the past, not the future; about jobs lost, not ground gained.
Looking forward, expanded trade will create far more jobs than it will destroy. And easier commerce will stretch the budgets of American families by supplying low-cost goods from abroad.
That's the new story Obama has to tell — and sell.
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