Trade backlash frustrates business

Trade backlash frustrates business
© Greg Nash

Business groups found themselves on the outside looking in during the Republican and Democratic conventions, with both parties expressing indifference or outright hostility to their top economic priorities.

During the past two weeks, rhetorical bombs were lobbed repeatedly against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade deal negotiated by President Obama that advocates were hoping to pass after the election.

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A steady chorus of chants and anti-TPP signs were a constant presence during the Democratic event in Philadelphia, while Republicans led by Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE made clear their own opposition to the deal.

The barrage of opposition has agitated business advocates who are trying their best to fight back by plastering social media with arguments in favor of the trade deal.

“We are absolutely frustrated and disappointed in both party conventions,” a business source told The Hill. 

The rhetoric against trade by Democrats and Republicans “is demagoguery and scapegoating is not going to solve economic problems that businesses or workers have in the global economy," the source said. 

“These is a small group of folks who have made TPP some sort of cause célèbre and don’t talk about what is actually in there — it’s fear-mongering,” the source said. 

A wide range of business groups who support trade argue that any plans by the candidates to scrap free trade agreements like the TPP, to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or pull out of the World Trade Organization (WTO) won’t create jobs and will hurt the economy.

“Because just saying ‘no’ doesn’t help us grow U.S. business and grow jobs, it doesn’t help raise the standards that either party says it wants to raise,” a source said. 

President Obama wants the TPP passed before he leaves office, but Clinton and Trump are warning congressional leaders not to hold a vote during the lame-duck session after the elections.

Tom Donohue, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has criticized both candidates on trade. 

During the Democratic convention, Donohue hit both parties for falling short on their platforms but he specifically blasted the GOP’s opposition to congressional votes on the TPP during the lame-duck session, saying that it is “posing a threat to the sweeping new deal with the Asia-Pacific.”

The U.S. Chamber doesn’t endorse presidential candidates, “but we do engage in the presidential policies that affect employers and entrepreneurs creating opportunities across the nation,” Donohue said. 

“And we have a clear message to both parties and their candidates: If you want to succeed, you must focus on growth.”

The Chamber's pleas have seemingly fallen on deaf ears in the Trump campaign. The Republican nominee has pushed back on the business lobby, saying it is controlled by special interests.

Meanwhile, Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd Overnight Defense: Trump's move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd's death 'a national tragedy' Pentagon: Esper, Milley 'not aware' of Trump's church photo-op ahead of time MORE of Virginia, were once supportive of the TPP, but are now standing together in opposition of the trade deal.

With both nominees against the deal, the odds of the deal passing before Obama leaves office appear increasingly long, something lawmakers have acknowledged in recent weeks. 

To counter the negativity on trade, business groups are redoubling their efforts, talking to both campaigns, House and Senate lawmakers and holding events throughout the August recess with members and companies around the country to “explain again and again what business needs in a global economy,” a source said. 

Other big business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and Business Roundtable are pitching in with their own social media campaigns.

Tom Linebarger, chairman and CEO of Cummins and chairman of the BRT's international engagement committee and Mike Bertsche, president and CEO of Camcraft, said “it’s time to drop the political games and recognize the TPP as an opportunity to support U.S. growth and jobs.”

“When Congress takes up TPP, members should look beyond the divisive rhetoric of the presidential campaign and seize the opportunity to support growth and jobs in their home states,” Linebarger and Bertsche wrote on Medium during the Democratic convention. 

The Chamber also took on what it said were several trade myths in a blog post this week. 

During Clinton’s speech on Thursday night, Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes ‏tweeted that “@HillaryClinton's first venture into policy tonight isn't promising for American business.”

At NAM, Linda Dempsey, the vice president of economic affairs, said that in “reading the DNC platform paragraphs on trade, one might believe that trade and trade agreements have been an overall negative for the United States, its entrepreneurs and its workers."

"Manufacturers need access to new markets without discriminatory and unfair barriers," Dempsey said. "That is what trade agreements like the TPP will do."