The Trump presidency is a constant illustration of those proverbs about “interesting times” and the curse of living during inflection points in history. When President Trump came to office he withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade regime focused on countering China. Trump pulled out of it as part of his greater hostility to multilateralism. But the TPP had already lost a great deal of support within the Democratic Party. Among Democrats, the argument was that it was a trade regime written to advantage corporations over labor, the environment, human rights, etc. The opposition certainly included a lot of traditional protectionism and it is often portrayed as such. But this is too simple and, in significant respects, a misleading explanation. Modern trade agreements are only partly about tariffs. They’re more whole commercial regimes — focused on intellectual property protections, technology transfers, endless rules of the road about the movements and regulation of capital and labor. But a broader point which now gets lost in the shuffle was that TPP was a multilateral agreement, which sought to bring in most of the states of the Pacific rim on terms defined by the U.S. as a counter to China.
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