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The trade rules

Thanks to an unlikely alliance of President Barack Obama, congressional Republicans and a smattering of pro-trade Democrats, fast-track legislation got back on track this week.

Nearly given up for dead not long ago, the measure cleared the Senate by the narrowest of margins.

As argued here before, fast-track negotiating authority should be a non-issue. With it, Congress can approve or reject trade agreements, just not tinker with them. Given the complexities of negotiating international accords, this is eminently sensible.

The president now can work to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement spanning a dozen nations. TPP foes then will have the opportunity to make their case against it.

At this point, opposition is based on speculation—details of the draft pact remain confidential—or general antipathy toward free trade. Indeed, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicates fewer people favor free trade since the fast-track debate intensified.

Locally, pro-free trade sentiment no doubt took a hit with this week’s news that the Master Lock Co. plans to close SentrySafe’s Linden Avenue plant and relocate its operations to facilities in Mexico and Wisconsin.

To be sure, any final TPP document delivered to Congress should be examined closely and debated thoroughly. That said, if U.S. negotiators have done a good job, TPP deserves support.

William Daley, commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and White House chief of staff for President Obama, observed recently that while many feared a “giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs leaving the country after passage of NAFTA, it never really happened. But a sizable number of manufacturing jobs were offshored to China, with which we have no trade agreement.

Mr. Daley also noted that most economic growth over the next 15 years is expected to occur outside the United States. And he made one other crucial point related directly to TPP: If we don’t draft the rules for trade in the Asia-Pacific region, China will. Does anyone favor that?

6/26/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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