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Obama Seeing Bipartisanship on Trade Deals... Finally

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CHINA TRADE
AP

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are expected to work together next week to pass the long awaited trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

The Obama administration is praising what appears to be the end of a 5-year deadlock on this issue, and the reality is that it just couldn't wait any longer. The United States already has fairly open markets so these deals will help the US gain better access to South Korean, Panamanian and Colombian markets.

As the leading export industry of the nation, the high-tech sector is a strong supporter of free trade and open markets. The agreement with Korea includes electronic commerce provisions and government procurement provisions that would enhance export opportunities for the high tech sector.

The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the Korea FTA's implementation would increase U.S. GDP by up to $12 billion and the three trade deals would support 70,000 US jobs.

Despite the gains to some industries like mine, the benefits of trade are not evenly distributed and the potential losses for some workers are real and need to be addressed. Congress did work out a compromise on these economic issues in a way the mainstream media deemed newsworthy this week.

However, the way Congress addressed the problems, was more of a flashback to the statesman-like approach -- putting the long-term greater good ahead of short-term political calculation -- that had long been a hallmark of US trade policy.

President Obama submitted the deals to Congress Monday after waiting for action on the part of Congress to mitigate the real harm to some workers by addressing Trade Adjustment Assistance.

Global trade has always been vital to the U.S. economy. Economists attribute much of US growth after World War II to the expansion of trade. For decades, thoughtful political leaders of both parties understood trade's importance, and trade votes, much like national security, were considered to be above partisan politics in Congress.

Support for free trade has always been a politically difficult choice for a member of Congress -- even in the best economic times. It's often said the benefits of trade are diffuse, while the costs are acute.

To manage this inherent situation, Democrats and Republicans historically cooperated by enacting provisions like TAA to offset the harm to some workers and then jointly claiming credit for expanding US markets.

But sometime in the 1990s, Congress began making trade a wedge issue with union losses pitted against market entry gains. While some may argue the merits of that approach as a political strategy, few believe that's our country's best economic strategy.

Maybe the public reaction to the recent budget battles showing that voters want and demand bipartisan cooperation helped bring Washington to its senses.

Or, maybe it was the realization that the world was moving on -- with or without a trade deal with the United States. Competing agreements such as Korea-EU and Colombia-Canada took effect this summer, so any further delay in enacting our FTAs would lead to a direct ceding of US market share.

Whatever it was, we'll take it and hope the trust and cooperation on behalf of our economy will be seen again, not just with future trade deals, but whenever Congress holds our economic future in its hands.