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‘Trade is Not a Four-Letter Word’: Fred Hochberg shows why bipartisanship is the answer

President Donald Trump was propelled to the White House in 2016 on a promise of being tough on trade, vowing to renegotiate deals such as the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and stand up to trade superpowers like China so that America could “start winning again.”

Trump’s “America first” trade rhetoric enabled him to secure victories in states whose economies are heavily impacted by trade, such as Michigan.

While Trump has commandeered this stance on trade, he has simultaneously created a challenge for Democrats to distinguish themselves on trade in any meaningful, compelling way — outside of simply decrying the president’s tariffs and policies.

Democrats in Congress have long warned about the economic threats posed by China and their manipulative practices on currency, as well as the failures of NAFTA for outsourcing jobs. The party once promised to use tariffs and other trade tactics to aid American workers, similar to Trump. For better or worse, however, President Trump has taken over the issue of trade, leaving the Democratic Party fractured on the issue in the midst of an election year.

Unfortunately, reducing the concept of trade to a partisan issue is a byproduct of our political system. The long history — and downfalls — of partisanship on trade is one that Fred Hochberg expertly illustrates in his forthcoming book, “Trade Is Not a Four-Letter Word.”

In his latest work, Hochberg presents a methodical testimonial to the value of free trade and the overall advantages of globalization, even when political ideologies fail to align.

Hochberg, the former chairman and president of the Export–Import Bank of the United States and CEO of Lillian Vernon, expertly illustrates how the net benefit to unencumbered trade has allowed for cheaper products and efficient transactions that improve a majority of people’s lives.

To be sure, Hochberg does not ignore how trade policy and trade politics can be alarmingly intertwined, often creating misunderstood trade deals that become political punching bags and result in an uninformed public.

While political parties throughout history have attempted to claim victory for the U.S. on complex trade deals, Hochberg’s observation that “trade wars typically don’t have winners” remains the bedrock of his analysis, going so far as to say that Trump possesses a “fundamental misunderstanding” of trade in his exaggerated concern over trade deficits.

Hochberg correctly notes that the majority of the American electorate has not experienced a tangible impact of American trade policy and globalization in their lives. However, those Americans who have felt negative impacts due to American trade policies are often in key electoral states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, resulting in their challenges being disproportionally amplified by political rhetoric that lacks substantive solutions.

Hochberg persuasively argues for the dismissal of partisan ideologies in the context of trade deals as the United States seeks to solidify itself as a leader in the increasingly globalized and technologically advanced world in which we now operate.

“The left must acknowledge that government programs can’t solve this alone,” Hochberg writes, “while the right must accept that the market won’t simply take care of everything in a way that’s acceptable or humane.”

Hochberg discusses his outlook on trade in the context of the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), an updated and modernized version of NAFTA negotiated by the Trump administration, which moved closer to a final vote last week when the Senate Finance Committee voted 25-3 to advance the legislation.

The deal represents a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation in an era of bitter political divides between the parties, and the success and value of the deal for American workers has been touted publicly on both sides of the aisle.

In making his case for bipartisanship on trade, Hochberg argues that we are on the precipice of a sizable global economic change that will fundamentally alter core industries like energy and manufacturing: Core machines are now on assembly lines, and artificial intelligence is only just starting to displace jobs.

America needs less “ideological squabble” as Hochberg puts it, and more adaptable, bipartisan policies that will assist rural communities, younger people and adults without college degrees — all groups that will have fundamentally different needs in the economic upheaval that Hochberg argues is coming our way.

To the detriment of hard-working Americans, political parties often present data on trade deals that support their partisan talking points while ignoring the sobering reality that trade economics and the success of specific policies rely on complicated data trends, advancements in technologies and often unforeseeable events to which markets can only react.

This is rightly concerning to Hochberg, who highlights that even when effective trade deals are passed, Americans often are left in the dark as to how exactly these deals have helped them.

Hochberg’s analysis could not be more precise — we simply cannot play politics with trade, and we must ensure bipartisan trade updates like the USMCA are passed, regardless of which party can claim credit.

Douglas Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) is an adviser to former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg and was an adviser to President Bill Clinton. He is the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”

Tags Bill Clinton Donald Trump Donald Trump Douglas Schoen Fred Hochberg Free trade International trade Michael Bloomberg United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement

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