What Hillary could say about trade agreements

tradeagreementDuring the first Presidential debate of 2016, the one issue that Trump “won” was trade. Clearly, Hillary Clinton needs a better answer on this issue—particularly because it’s an issue that resonates in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Clinton should not allow Trump’s simplistic ideas on trade to stand. Nor should she sit by while he threatens to “tear up” all of our existing trade agreements.

Trade agreements come in many different forms. According to the Office of the US Trade Representative, we engage with 154 nations in the World Trade Organization, and we have individual free trade agreements with 20 additional countries.

I do not pretend to understand trade agreements, but I think that Hillary Clinton does. So, if I were asked to contribute a few lines to a new answer to Trump on trade, here’s what I’d suggest:

“Trade between nations is a complicated issue. There are no simple answers. We have trade agreements that are multinational—such as the WTO—and we have 20+ agreements that are between just the US and one other country. Each of these agreements is negotiated separately, so you have to study up on the particulars of each situation and each relationship. There is no one-size-fits-all.”

[She could add some facts about special situations with particular countries here.]

“And, by the way, there is a reason that we call them trade ‘agreements.’  They are the results of conversations, collaborative problem-solving and good-faith negotiations. For them to work, both sides have to agree. We don’t create trade agreements by dictating the terms to our trading partners.

“And, finally, when a potential president threatens to ‘rip up’ all of our existing trade agreements,’ our trading partners start feeling uneasy. As a former Secretary of State, I can tell you that that is not a good idea.  As I said at the debate, ‘Words matter.’ We need our friends and allies to feel that they can trust us to keep our promises and to negotiate in good faith.”

Just an idea.