Politics Aside, American Voters Favor Free Trade

Trade has become the enemy in this political cycle. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have backed away from supporting trade agreements — ironic, because as president, Bill Clinton signed some of the most important trade deals of our time, and Trump’s empire relies on free trade to manufacture and sell his Trump-branded products.

But debates and sound bites aside, the fact is most American voters think free trade is a win-win-win — for our nation, our economy and us as consumers.

According to a survey conducted by the Consumer Technology Association, nearly two-thirds of millennials — a key demographic in this election — support the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Clinton and Trump would be wise to pay attention to the political will of these voters, because millennials are America’s largest living generation and tied with baby boomers in their share of the electorate.

The CTA survey also found more than three-quarters of tech-savvy voters — early adopters of new technology — support the overall benefits of free trade. And nearly two-thirds of minority voters do, as well: 63 percent of African-Americans and 60 percent of Latinos favor adoption of the TPP.

Most voters agree trade pacts keep consumer prices low (72 percent), strengthen the country’s global leadership (70 percent) and ensure other countries will be penalized if they don’t adhere to trade rules they’ve agreed to (64 percent).

And voters understand free trade is a job-creating win for our country and for consumers. The majority of voters (56 percent) agree that trade pacts create jobs and grow the economy.

By touting the economic benefits of free trade and the TPP, both candidates have the opportunity to swing considerable votes in their direction. And, nearing the end of the election season, Clinton has a chance to undo her flip-flop on TPP and go back to her roots of supporting the “gold standard” of trade.

Trade can be disruptive and displace some jobs, but in totality, U.S. jobs that depend on trade nearly tripled from 1992 to 2014, from 14.5 million to 41 million, according to the Business Roundtable. More, U.S. trade-related employment grew three times faster than total U.S. employment between 2004 and 2014.

The TPP will strengthen this job base by encouraging transparent and fair public-interest regulation, promoting consumer protection and financial stability, and fighting piracy, while also preventing discrimination against American businesses, products and workers.

And while the candidates can’t seem to get on board with TPP, support for free trade extends across party lines among voters. Most Democrats and most Republicans polled by CTA agree that trade agreements keep prices low for many consumer products, help create American jobs and bring long-term growth to the U.S.

Since trade agreements support more than 40 million U.S. jobs, the presidential candidates would be well-served by connecting the dots for voters about how trade — and the TPP, in particular — would benefit them.

The 12 nations that are part of the TPP agreement — which, notably, does not include China — are among the fastest-growing economies in the world, accounting for 40 percent of the global gross domestic product. In 2014, U.S. technology companies exported $10 billion in goods and services to the other TPP countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

International trade agreements such as the TPP are essential to maintain our strong economic standing in the global community.

The TPP would eliminate more than 18,000 tariffs, including levies as high as 59 percent, on U.S. exports — ranging from audio components to automobiles — to those countries, making U.S. goods more price-competitive there.

As the other TPP countries move to ratify the trade agreement, supporters here at home must press Congress’ lame-duck session to ratify the agreement.

Between now and the end of this presidential term, the business community and other stakeholders must work together to educate Congress about the economic benefits trade agreements bring to our country. And our next president should pick up where President Obama left off and support trade agreements such as the TPP.

The future stability of our economy depends on it.


Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.

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