America’s free trade agreements have been increasingly under fire during the 2016 presidential campaign — both by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Both the presumptive Republican nominee and the Vermont senator have demanded that the US not ratify the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership, a landmark free trade agreement with many of the Pacific Rim nations. The agreement is expected to be put before Congress during the lame-duck session after the election. It’s the critical piece of President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in foreign policy.
Not only Trump and Sanders stand in opposition to TPP, however. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the candidate most aligned with the Obama administration having served in it as Secretary of State, has come out against TPP as it’s currently structured.
But Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told Business Insider during a Wednesday interview that Congress is going to have to “suck up” and ratify the agreement because it simply must be done, even in the face of hostile opposition to trade along the campaign trail.
He hopes the deal will “eventually” pass.
“I do still think there are enough people that realise we’ve got to do it,” the Arizona Republican said. “Some of those things you just suck up and do it because you know it has to be done. And this is one of them.”
The senator said trade has always been something that’s harder to sell to the public during an election year, because it’s “easier to
identify those who have lost because of trade,” pointing to factories that have closed or relocated.
“But it’s more difficult to identify on the net, companies that have benefited from exports, cheaper goods,” he continued. “Not just cheaper goods but cheaper inputs. So, takes a lot longer than a 30-second soundbite.”
Flake said it’s “incumbent” on senators who get to serve lengthy, six-year terms to talk about the subject more rationally than those seeking office.
“I mean in an election campaign, you certainly prioritise what you play up and play down but boy, to play into the rhetoric and not challenge it that is going on is inexcusable I think,” he said.
Pointing specifically to Trump, Flake called his anti-trade rhetoric “code” language for “Fortress America.”
“Anybody who believes that we’re going to grow economically and deal with the huge fiscal problems that we have from shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world is just certainly not what I’d call a Republican,” he said. “I mean we believe in free trade. We still do. NAFTA is not a dirty word.”
“In an election campaign it’s hard to explain in 30 seconds,” he added. “But we ought to try.”
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