Choice of Robert Lighthizer as USTR Strengthens Prospects for a New Approach to U.S. Trade Policy

TPP Would Have Proved Useless in Countering China’s Ambitions

New Report Shows Systematic Failure of Past Trade Pacts Sold with Foreign Policy Claims about China’s Conduct, Improved Labor Rights, and U.S. Global Leadership Now Being Recycled to Warn about TPP’s Demise

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will withdraw the United States’ signature from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on his first day in office as promised, but the dire warnings emanating from TPP supporters in response to the pact’s inability to obtain majority support in Congress recycle almost verbatim foreign policy claims that have proved baseless, a new report published today by Public Citizen shows. China’s rise poses real challenges for the United States, but a comprehensive review of foreign policy-related claims made to sell past U.S. trade agreements shows that trade agreements have systematically failed to forestall posited foreign policy threats or deliver promised benefits.

“The economic arguments for the TPP failed, it could not garner majority support in Congress and now its supporters are resurrecting the same old zombie foreign policy arguments in an attempt to stave off its final burial,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

In extensive side-by-side tables, the report reviews four categories of foreign policy arguments used for decades to sell the controversial trade-policy-of-the-moment, from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to the TPP. Congress and the public are warned that an agreement’s implementation is essential to counter China’s ambitions and let the United States write the rules of the road, maintain U.S. global leadership, export U.S. values such as human and labor rights and enhance U.S. national security.

Such claims helped pass previous trade deals that they were employed to sell. As a result, we can examine the actual outcomes of the claims and document that they have proven uniformly false.

“If future U.S. presidents want to pass the trade agreements that they negotiate, then they must deliver deals that provide economic benefits to most Americans,” said Wallach. “Trying to scare up support for a trade deal by raising the same old parade of foreign policy horrors that allegedly will result if is not implemented is not a winning strategy and even more so because these very claims have proved false.”

The research for the report showed the most overlap between TPP claims and those made during the 2000 China PNTR fight. Indeed, a 2000 quote from then-U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) on China PNTR and a 2016 quote from Secretary of State Kerry on the TPP, are almost identical. But implementation of China PNTR did not, in fact, provide a counter pressure to China's authoritarian government, improve human and labor rights, or enhance China’s cooperation on an array of national security challenges. The actual result was just the opposite.

The report also reviews various U.S. trade pacts with Latin American that were also sold as necessary to keep China (or Japan) from dominating the region, politically and economically, and as vital to improving democracy and human rights in trade partner countries. Yet the very foreign policy (and economic) threats that the deals’ passage was promised to forestall, occurred regardless, while the touted improvements in human rights failed to materialize.

“With a robust debate about the TPP’s actual terms, and the rising public awareness of the pact’s real threats, the foreign policy scare tactics failed this time,” Wallach said. “But that has not stopped TPP proponents from repeating them endlessly in response to the TPP’s demise as if somehow that will revive the deal.”

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