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NAFTA, TPP and the Outlook For Trade Under Trump

Opposition to global trade was a huge theme in the Presidential election, and President-elect Trump promises to renegotiate NAFTA and ditch the TPP on his first day in office.  We look at the implications of possible Trump administration trade policies for U.S. workers, for our international trading partners, and for the economy.


  • Arnie Alpert -  New Hampshire co-director of the American Friends Service Committee
  • Matt Slaughter  -  Dean of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to bring jobs back to this country. This week, the President-elect said he'd brokered a deal to keep nearly 1,000 jobs at an Indianapolis manufacturing plant from moving to Mexico.  

But Trump's desire to pull back from international commerce has many economists concerned, including a leading Dartmouth economist who was a guest today on The Exchange. Matt Slaughter is dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and professor of international business and has been involved in national trade policy for a long time, working both on Capitol Hill and with various administrations in the White House.   When it comes to job loss, he says:

"If we blame trade entirely that' s not fair at all, so a little more data can help: Around the time that household income peaked in the United States in the late 90's we had about 17 million manufacturing jobs in the United States. Today, we have a little over 12 million, " he said. "The consistent finding is that the majority of those jobs lost disappeared because of technological change, not because of trade." 

Others have echoed what Professor Slaughter says, including Secretary of State John Kerry.  Speaking recently before the Women's Foreign Policy Group, Kerry said, "We're running around hearing people battle a dragon called trade - when in fact, it's not the fundamental problem. 85 percent of the job loss in the United States is due to technology, not trade." 

Still,  in this past election more voters apparently disagreed with this viewpoint.  Also, opposition to trade now has a more bipartisan flavor, with both Republican President-elect Donald trump and Democratic candidate Senator Bernie Sanders strongly making the case that trade deals have hurt workers more than they've helped.  Speaking on The Exchange, Arnie Alpert  of the American Friends Service Committee reflected:    

"When we get into the weeds of those so-called free-trade agreements, what we find is that these agreements are massive documents creating rules covering broad swaths of the economy -- talking about intellectual property, government procurement, domestic regulation, investment, in ways that are creating great benefits for the global corporations and investors I would say to the disadvantage of workers, not just in the United States but all over the world."

Granite Staters, meanwhile, seem to hold mixed views on trade.  Exchange listeners brought all sorts of points:

  • Rob in Somerworth:  "I think the trade discussion is framed too often only in terms of jobs.  I think very few Americans understand the gains of trade in terms of cheap imports."
  • Pat pointed to the role of unions, asking:  "Have union wages and benefits become excessively expensive, thereby necessitating companies looking for cheaper labor?"  
  • Judy wrote: "Millions of Americans have been displaced, and, through no fault of their own, will not return to employment at their previous wages.  Isn't this a time to strengthen the safety net, rather than cutting budgets for social services, education and health care?"

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