In response to the Senate’s difficulties in passing Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership, I’ve noticed a fair amount of opposition to TPA, often implying opposition to free trade generally (this reddit thread is demonstrative). First, in regards to TPA, as long as you feel that a trade agreement can have pros and cons just like any other international agreement, there really isn’t much reason to oppose it. Most international negotiations are unlikely to happen without Congress delegating negotiating authority to the executive branch. I think the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, for example, were negotiated somewhat in secret. And then legislation was later placed in front of Congress to implement. I couldn’t find much more info on it so I may be wrong, but trade treaties aren’t substantially different from other international agreements.
Next on America’s trade policy and free trade generally, it’s difficult for me to accept criticisms of free trade, when so many experts seem to be pretty sure it is beneficial. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many economists from all the top institutions all agree on something. Moreover, this isn’t exactly a new position, and it’s not like alternatives haven’t been tried. Brookings, which is by no means some right-wing think tank, is pretty set on free trade (NAFTA included). It’s also probably worth noting, that higher educated voters tend to favor free trade more. Lots of bad policies may be popular, but hopefully higher information voters will actually like better policies.
There’s also some belief that free trade hurts poor Americans. Even if that were true (which seems unlikely given expert opinion and increased growth), doesn’t that imply that poor people in other countries are benefiting? Is fighting global income inequality a particularly bad outcome? Allowing for freer investment in developing countries seems like a categorically “good” thing.
That’s not to say I’ve never heard of opposition to free trade from respectable sources…but most of them tend to be single economists from the 1980s. There’s also this recent article in the New York Times…except it was an op-ed written by a fellow from a partisan progressive think tank. It’s just hard to find opposition to trade from academic sources, not tied to industry. Now, it’s possible I’ve just been brainwashed to believe the same things that lots of smart people believe and I can’t think for myself, but at this point I think I’d be crazy to largely oppose American free trade policy, there’s just too much expert opinion on the other side.