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Trump vs. Clinton: Hillary’s Murky History on the Trans-Pacific Partnership


(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images; Taylor Le/Pacific Standard)

In a race that’s seen her trustworthiness repeatedly called into question, the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been among the sharpest thorns in Hillary Clinton’s side. Already tonight, it has emerged as a major talking point.

All election season, Clinton has remained steadfast in her opposition to the 12-nation free trade agreement, which would eliminate tariffs with Japan and Malaysia, among other countries, and essentially expand on the existing North American Free Trade Agreement. But, as CNN helpfully points out, this stance comes in direct contrast to Clinton’s actions as secretary of state, when she actually called the TPP the “gold standard in trade agreements.”

The fear among progressive Democrats is that Clinton will reverse course once more should she claim office. (Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe even said as much, speaking with Politico.) And in an election where just 36 percent of voters in a McClatchy/Marist poll released last week found Clinton “honest and trustworthy” — compared to 44 percent for Trump — that could be a huge blow come election day.

Critics of the TPP argue that its economic benefits will apply mainly to corporations, as companies will have further incentive to outsource cheap labor. There’s cause for that concern: A 2015 report by the Federation of American Scientists concluded that NAFTA had a negligible effect on gross domestic product growth.

There’s also the issue of labor standards. As Dwyer Gunnpointed out for Pacific Standard, when the United States Government Accountability Office looked into labor standards among Free Trade Agreement member countries, it found a sl0w-as-molasses response rate by the Department of Labor. “Of the five formal FTA complaints submitted, the Department of Labor has resolved only one of them,” Gunn reported, “and has dramatically exceeded its allocated six-month time frame for investigating of the other complaints.”

Of course, the TPP will probably lead to cheaper imported goods—a fact that will benefit lower- and middle-income Americans especially. But beyond that, it just might not matter a whole lot. An estimate by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the TPP would increase U.S. incomes by a relatively minor 0.4 percent (or $77 billion) per year by 2025.

“Both sides pretend it’s going to change the world,” Jeffrey Frankel, a Harvard University economist who served on President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, told Gunn. “The effects are usually smaller then you think, and that’s probably true of the TPP as well.”

But with fears that TPP could promote illegal fishing practices, contaminate water supplies, and spur the fracking industry, that may not matter much for Clinton.