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Opinion

Op-Ed: Bob Dole: Stop playing politics with the TPP

The twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact is finalized
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman (center) is flanked by his international counterparts after an agreement was reached by the twelve Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) member countries in Atlanta, Georgia on Oct. 5, 2015.
(Erik Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)

Free trade historically represented a rare thing in Washington: a policy embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike. Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama all supported the idea — and were proven right — that lowering barriers to international trade has tremendous benefits for America’s economy and national security.

That is why it is so hard to understand why both parties played politics with the Trans-Pacific Partnership throughout the divisive 2016 election. The TPP is a trade agreement with the power to bring the additional economic growth our country desperately needs, while also strengthening our alliances in one of the most important regions of the world, the Asia-Pacific. Now that the campaigning and voting is done, Congress should show the American people that bipartisanship is not dead and ratify the TPP before the end of this year.

The economic argument alone is reason enough to support the TPP. International trade supports more than 40 million American jobs — and those jobs have grown faster than total employment over the past decade. Although the United States has some of the lowest barriers for foreign imports, in other countries American goods and services face steep tariffs and other barriers.

Any agreement that levels the global playing field for U.S. businesses — including our manufacturers, farmers, and service providers — deserves a fair hearing.
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Therefore, any agreement that levels the global playing field for U.S. businesses — including our manufacturers, farmers, and service providers — deserves a fair hearing. The TPP does that and more, establishing rules and standards that reflect U.S. values across 11 countries in a critical economic and geopolitical region. For instance, the TPP will help create a single market with labor and environmental regulations that mirror the high standards we set here at home.

Today’s critics of free trade agreements have been preying on fears of foreign competition for jobs. The hard truth is that in the last 30 years the greatest number of American jobs disappeared not because of trade, but because of technological innovation and related productivity gains. Global competition is a reality, but attempting to shelter our economy behind high tariff walls and other protectionist devices will prove as ineffectual today as it did in the 1930s. The TPP, on the other hand, will provide the market access and high standards that our exporters need to compete.

The challenges of globalization, of course, extend beyond tariffs and taxes. The United States needs to reinvent our educational system to give younger people a strong start in this new economy and to provide new skills to older workers displaced by technology. These are important issues, but not ones that a trade pact should address. The TPP, when honestly evaluated, is deserving of ratification on its own.

It is estimated that the TPP will increase economic growth, create jobs and raise incomes in the United States while also creating opportunities for American innovators, small businesses and technology companies to sell their products and services abroad. The economic case for the TPP is indisputable and is eclipsed only by the geopolitical rationale.

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Eight former Defense secretaries recently wrote of the Asia-Pacific that “no region will impact American prosperity and security more in the coming century.” They are right.

The TPP presents a tremendous opportunity for America to stabilize Asia for generations. Our allies in the region recognize this; already key partners including South Korea and Thailand have expressed a keen interest in joining the TPP once it is ratified. Their interest is a testament to the impact of American leadership. 

If the United States walks away from the TPP, however, we will not be left with the status quo. Instead we’ll find ourselves in a weaker position in Asia while other regional alliances, led by China and its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, strengthen. Furthermore, New Zealand recently said that the other signatories to TPP will go ahead, with or without the United States. Such a scenario would leave America outside of the two major deals that will shape the 21st-century trade agenda. 

With the election over, Congress must put the political rhetoric aside and recognize the TPP for what it is: a strategic anchor to build bridges and alliances that will bolster U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific and strengthen our national security.

In a democratic system, nothing is perfect, and compromise means concessions. However, insisting on the “perfect” solution for any policy objective — including trade — will never move America forward. It is urgent that our policymakers take action to ratify the TPP this year. Let’s not make the perfect an enemy of the good.

Bob Dole, the former U.S. senator from Kansas, was the Republican presidential nominee in 1996. His current work includes representing the interests of Taiwan.

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