Opinion: The Times’ editorial board on the stump for free trade

TPP protest
Protesters express their opposition to the prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in Beverly Hills in November 2013, during a visit by President Obama.
(Los Angeles Times)

As the debate over the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and fast-track authority heats up, it’s a good bet that The Times’ editorial board will soon be taking a stand on the merits of each. Here’s a look back at where The Times’ editorial board has been on previous free-trade deals.

Short version: It’s all in.

This faith -- that lowering barriers to trade will lead to greater freedom and prosperity for all, as the board put it in its mission statement -- has guided editorial decisions for decades. Since the 1980s, it has argued that free-trade policies transcend partisan politics, and has supported open markets under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

Even before negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement geared up, it charged Republican George H.W. Bush to “demonstrate promptly the President’s real and sure commitment to free-trade” in 1989. It subsequently applauded his NAFTA negotiations.


The board gave President Clinton equal praise for using his power to usher NAFTA through Congress. In 1997, it contended that these efforts had produced stellar economic output: Clinton “should have no hesitation in declaring the pact a success. The numbers and the politics of the U.S-Mexican-Canadian trade association have proved to be winners.”

It endorsed George W. Bush’s Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004, declaring that it “would provide American exports with greater access to those countries.” The editorialistas were similarly laudatory about the Obama administration’s more recent embrace of free trade.

From the board’s perspective, free trade has enabled American companies to compete in new regions, grow, and ultimately create more American jobs. It’s not alone in that view; the Congressional Research Service estimated last year that “U.S. trade with NAFTA partners has more than tripled” since the agreement went into force.

Naturally, there are caveats in the board’s editorials. It expressed concerns about free trade enabling environmental abuse, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border, but noted that environmental protections exist in NAFTA. To the board, the problem is with lackadaisical enforcement of environmental regulations — not free trade.


The board also strongly rejects protectionism, including the argument (usually from organized labor) that free trade kills American jobs. While acknowledging that some specific jobs have moved or simply disappeared, the board has argued that free-trade agreements historically have created bigger U.S. payrolls and more jobs designed for a global marketplace.

Besides, the board maintains, protectionists seek to roll back globalization, rather than acknowledging that it is already upon us. The editorial page declared as early as 1988 that “it is politically easier … to seek protection than to face the reality that a long-term solution depends on the adjustment of U.S. industries to world competition--an adjustment that will force many into new work and new ventures.”

The year might have changed, but the views expressed by the board have not.

Taxy is a Coro Fellow working temporarily with The Times’ editorial board.