How Democrats really feel about free and fair trade
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If you’ve been following the 2016 presidential election at all, you’ve heard plenty about free trade and its impact on our economy – for months trade has been center stage for both nominees. While the focus on trade has provided a real platform for Americans to voice their concerns about past deals, it has also politicized the discussion overall — and left the impression that Democrats in particular oppose the major trade agreement currently on the table, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Yet most Democrats actually support the TPP.

As former governors of two very different states — from our politics to our customs — we may not have the same perspective on every issue or policy facing America. But as longtime Democrats, we have both advocated for workers rights, stood up for America’s middle-class, and fought for environmental standards that protect our land, water, and the air we breathe. And we agree the opportunity to advance these issues is a driving factor in why so many Democrats beyond the Beltway support the TPP.


When you dig into the details, it’s little wonder why Democrats are on board – and it all starts with working families. TPP has the most comprehensive and enforceable labor protections of any trade deal the U.S. has ever negotiated, requiring our trade partners to set acceptable working conditions and a minimum wage, protect the right to unionize and bargain collectively, and ban child and forced labor. The TPP’s stronger labor protections will not only benefit nearly 650 million workers across the Pacific Rim, it will level the playing field so the U.S. can better compete in the global market.

In addition, Democrats recognize the positive impact TPP will have on our jobs and our economy. The TPP will cut 18,000 taxes on American exports in some of the fastest growing markets in the world, expanding economic opportunity for workers here at home. Over the longer term, the TPP is projected to increase U.S. annual exports by $357 billion and create an estimated 796,000 new export-related jobs by 2030 — jobs that pay up to 18% more on average.

The TPP also appeals to climate advocates on the left, with the most far-reaching environmental protections of any U.S. trade deal in history. In fact, TPP trade partners have agreed to end some of the most harmful fishery subsidies contributing to the depletion of our ocean’s fish, combat illegal wildlife trafficking, promote long-term conservation of marine mammals, and coordinate on climate change action. 

Perhaps most persuasive for some progressives, TPP definitively addresses the failures of past trade deals. By including our NAFTA partners in the deal, Mexico will finally be held accountable to labor and environmental standards or be subject to trade sanctions — correcting a major omission in NAFTA and finally giving the U.S. the appropriate tools to protect American industry from unfair trade practices that hurt American manufacturing.

The fact is, Democratic voters believe trade creates opportunities for economic growth and improves the standard of living for American workers – and we’re committed to free and fair trade explicitly because the TPP holds true to the core values of our party. Poll after poll confirms that a consistent majority of Democrats believe international trade is good for the economy and support the TPP. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 60 percent of Democrats favor free trade, a Gallup poll found 63 percent of Democrats see foreign trade as an opportunity, and Pew Research Center found 55 percent of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE supporters favor the TPP. And just last month, a Consumer Technology Association poll conducted by YouGov found 58 percent of Democratic voters support the TPP, with even higher rates of support — over 60 percent — among key constituents such as African American and Latino voters. 

While the election has clearly amplified the voices of some over others, Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor MORE’ populism should not be confused for anti-TPP popularity among Democrats more widely. Despite the hype, the notion that Sanders unlocked a growing dissatisfaction for the TPP among Democrats just doesn’t play out in the numbers. A national survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in June – when Sanders was polling near his peak – found 56 percent of Sanders voters support TPP. And instead of inspiring public fury, Morning Consult found that Democrats favor the TPP after learning more about the deal. Moreover, multiple surveys, including one released in October, find that young voters – the most-discussed voting bloc among Sanders supporters – are also the biggest backers of international trade and TPP.

This election’s discussion on trade did bring one important point into the debate: we must organize international trade to benefit more people. That’s exactly why President Obama put labor and environmental commitments at the heart of the deal and why Congressional Democrats pushed for the largest-ever trade assistance and enforcement package along with the TPP — ensuring the benefits of the agreement are shared broadly while minimizing the hardships from a changing economy.

To be sure, Democrats differ and debate among ourselves on a variety of issues. But the facts on the TPP have largely been missing from the conversation during an election year dominated by political rhetoric. If we want to craft better policy that benefits American workers and reflects the views within our country, we must engage in serious deliberation – not just political volleying. It’s imperative for Congress to take up TPP in the lame-duck, give it a fair public hearing, and allow a vote based on a full understanding of the benefits of the deal.

The end of the election may be near, but the debate on trade must continue. Let’s get beyond politics and into the substance — that’s what most Democrats want, and what all Americans deserve.

Deval Patrick was the Governor of Massachusetts from 2007 to 2015. Phil Bredesen was the Governor of Tennessee from 2003 to 2011.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.