One of the greatest tragedies of U.S. Election 2016 is the thorough—and unjustified—pounding that trade agreements have taken in the political discourse. The benefits of open trade have always been a hard sell to the public. In an election when the public is turning against the “elites,” it has become the first casualty.
Donald Trump uses bilateral trade numbers as a kind of scorecard, with deficits showing we are “losing” against China, Japan, Germany, etc. Bernie Sanders—who swept contests this weekend in Alaska, Washington, and Hawaii—prides himself as having “voted against NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China,” and any other trade agreement that has crossed his desk. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has abandoned public support for trade in an effort to say whatever she must to win the race. No matter how the election turns out, the damage this has done to public understanding of the importance of trade in creating prosperity for all will last for a long time.
So kudos to FedEx (FDX) CEO Fred Smith for his recent speech, reprinted in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, on “How Trade Made America Great.” You can read it here. (subscription required.) There’s also a smart piece in the New York Times’ Upshot this weekend entitled “The Trade Deficit Isn’t a Scorecard and Cutting It Won’t Make America Great Again.” And my former colleague Paul Blustein has written a thoughtful commentary for Fortune here.
We don’t expect any of this to turn back the raging tide. But with politicians leading in the wrong direction, someone needs to point the way.
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