While WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign had promised highly embarrassing revelations from Hillary Clinton’s closed-door paid speeches to bankers, her alleged remarks about free trade in the Americas made at a conference hosted by a Brazilian bank deserve nothing but praise.
Andrés Oppenheimer / The Miami Herald
I’ve read some of WikiLeaks’ supposedly embarrassing revelations about what Hillary Clinton allegedly said in closed-door speeches to bankers, and — quite frankly — she deserves praise for them. In fact, her remarks made me like her better than before.
Clinton’s statements from her paid speeches to Wall Street bankers were part of the thousands of emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The Clinton campaign says these hacked emails are a Russian-supported effort by WikiLeaks to help Donald Trump win the U.S. elections.
One of the allegedly devastating revelations that WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign had promoted as among the most damning to Clinton was her statement about free trade supposedly made in a speech to a Brazilian bank in 2013.
In it, she is quoted as saying that “my dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future.” She added that “we have to have a concerted plan to increase trade” in the Americas, and that “we have to resist protectionism.”
Bravo! I couldn’t agree more. That, by the way, has been the position of all Republican and Democratic presidents from Ronald Reagan until George W. Bush. It also has been partially embraced by President Barack Obama, who supports a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that would facilitate free trade between the United States and 11 Asian and Latin American countries.
And that is how most Americans feel about free trade. According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 55 percent of American voters agree that free trade is good for the country, among other things because it opens new markets for U.S. exports.
Unfortunately, Clinton is not making these statements in public these days. Since she made them three years ago, Fox News and the Trump campaign have turned the words “open borders” into a synonym for mayhem, crime and terrorism. And they don’t mention that she said these words in the context of describing her dream — if there ever is a hemisphere-wide common market.
Clinton is not publicly voicing her support for free trade because she fears losing votes in key industrial swing states such as Ohio. During their second debate, Trump repeated his claim that the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, “is perhaps the greatest disaster trade deal in the history of the world.”
In fact, NAFTA has been largely a success story for all three countries: Canada, Mexico and the United States. Like in any broad deal, there have been wins and losses, but the wins have outnumbered the losses.
First, while some U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to Mexico, other — better paid — jobs have been created in the United States. U.S. exports to Mexico today support about 6 million U.S. jobs, according to a Wilson Center study.
Second, U.S. manufacturing jobs will continue to disappear largely because of automation, not because of Mexico. Trying to “make America great again” by restoring the manufacturing jobs of the 1950s — instead of creating new high-skilled jobs — is a political illusion.
Third, if Trump became president and applied his proposed 35 percent or 45 percent tax on U.S. imports from Mexico and China, his protectionist policies would trigger a trade war. The last time there was a global trade war was in 1929, and it resulted in the Great Depression.
Fourth, a rising tide lifts all boats. If there hadn’t been NAFTA, Mexico would be poorer, and more Mexicans would seek to flee to the United States. Conversely, illegal immigration would be less of a problem if the United States and Latin American countries create industrial supply chains that benefit all sides, and turn the hemisphere into a hub for exports to the rest of the world.
When this election race is over, and — I hope — Trump goes down in history as the closest America ever got to have its own banana republic-styled narcissist autocrat, Washington should revive the idea of a hemispheric free trade deal.
I know, none of this is politically correct these days, in the midst of Trump’s isolationist populism and the Brexit vote. But what WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign described as an explosive leak about free trade is, in fact, a great idea that deserves to be resurrected.