Trump says many trade agreements are bad for Americans. The architects of NAFTA say he’s wrong

Former Republican Rep. David Dreier, left, and former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, a Democrat, talk during the Dreier Roundtable at Claremont McKenna College.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have said they oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be the largest multilateral trade agreement ever negotiated.

On Friday, some of the men who negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement about 20 years ago came together to warn against dismissing these pacts.

For the record:

9:16 p.m. April 16, 2024A previous version of this article misspelled Mickey Kantor’s name as Cantor.

Every White House administration since the 1930s has supported trade agreements, former U.S. Commerce Secretary and Democrat Mickey Kantor said Friday morning during a panel at Claremont McKenna College. He was part of a conference on populism, politics and global trade through the Dreier Roundtable.


“I support Hillary Clinton, but I deeply disagree with her on what she’s done in not leading on trade,” Kantor said.

Americans who support Trump see demographic change and jobs shifting overseas, and these changes lead to anxiety and anger that politicians have ignored for too long, the panelists said. Trump taps into that populism.

“People are watching the world around them change in such a way they can’t absorb it,” Kantor said. The accompanying fear “manifests itself politically,” he said.

The Dreier Roundtable is a public policy program led by former Rep. David Dreier, a California Republican. (Dreier is also a member of the board of directors for Tronc, which owns the Los Angeles Times.)

During the conference, Kantor and the Republicans who spoke blamed Trump’s success in part on the lack of education that voters receive about these trade deals and the forces driving globalization. Jobs will leave the U.S. for industries in other countries regardless of trade deals; what the U.S. needs is trade agreements to help create structure and processes, including strong job training programs for the multiple careers that Americans will likely have over their lifetimes, Dreier said.

“If we … don’t shape the global economy,” Dreier said, “we will be shaped by it.”

Reach Sonali Kohli at or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.