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The Rising Use of the Trade Pact Sales Pitch of Last Resort

TPP Foreign Policy Arguments Mimic False Claims Made for Past Deals

By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

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Trade debates often begin with economic arguments. But when those prove unconvincing, proponents of more-of-the same “trade” agreements invariably resort to U.S. foreign policy and national security arguments to try to sell unpopular deals to the U.S. public and Congress.

As this study shows, nearly identical “foreign policy” arguments have been trotted out over the past 20 years. For example, failing to pass an agreement is routinely framed as benefitting whatever country is perceived as the current leading threat to U.S. economic or foreign policy dominance – from “Japan” to “Asia and Europe” to “Latin American anti-U.S. populists,” and now, China.

When a new U.S. “free trade” agreement (FTA) is introduced, industry, administration or congressional proponents typically cite promises of export growth and job creation to push the deal. However, Congress and the U.S. public have become increasingly aware that today’s “free trade” agreements are no longer mainly about trade. Rather, the appealing brand of “free trade” has been affixed to pacts negotiated behind closed doors that implement a vast array of domestic policy changes favored by large corporate interests, many of which have been rejected in open venues such as Congress.

But the “free trade” sales pitch has lost its sway as promises made for past FTAs of expanded exports and jobs have gone unfulfilled.