What if the United States had had a truly savvy deal-maker like Donald Trump negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord instead of the wimpy Obama team? I mean, be honest, folks, would you let Barack Obama sell your house? I've researched the deal and concluded Trump would have gotten us this: He would have begun by saying "a baby could figure out" that since 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners come into our country duty-free already, and so much of our stuff is still hit with tariffs in their countries, if we eliminate 18,000 tariffs we'll be able to keep more production at home and sell more abroad. "We'll export so much we'll actually get tired of exporting," Trump would say.
After all, America's total manufacturing output was nearing an all-time high at the end of 2015. True, it was with more robots and fewer people, but we've still created nearly 900,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010 because we have cheap energy, skilled workers and good rule of law. Our workers can compete if we level the playing field, so Trump would have told opponents of the trade deal, "Just do the math, people." Our average applied tariff is already only 1.5 percent while the tariffs of these Pacific countries can range much higher — Vietnam has peak tariffs of over 50 percent on cars and machines — so if we get rid of those tariffs our exporters are poised to benefit.
Since Trump cares about blue-collar workers, unlike the elitist Obama, he'd have demanded that in return for free access to our markets the 11 other TPP countries had to agree, some for the first time, to freedom for their workers to form independent trade unions, to elect their own labor leaders, to collectively bargain and to eliminate all child and forced labor practices. He'd also have insisted that they adopt laws on minimum wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health, again, precisely to level the playing field with U.S. workers.
Trump would also have required that the deal prohibit all customs duties for digital products, make sure companies did not have to share source codes in order to get into new markets and ensure free access for all cloud computing services in all TPP countries — all areas of growing U.S. strength.
Trump, because he res— especially Malaysia — to take real steps to halt human trafficking from such countries as Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh and require each signatory to improve access for human rights groups to assist victims of trafficking. If you don't comply, you lose your trade benefits. (Trump's no sucker for a wink and a smile.)
Moreover, Trump would have made sure that the accord, in a first for any trade deal, put restrictions on state-owned companies that compete with our private businesses, like Vietnam's oil company. These state-owned companies often get special benefits that enable them to undercut our companies. Trump's trade deal would also have been the first requiring criminal penalties for stealing our industrial secrets.
"No more ripping off America," Trump would have said.
He certainly would have insisted on strong intellectual property protections for America's software industry, one of our greatest export assets, and taken an approach to pharmaceuticals that splits the difference between what the big drug companies want in the way of intellectual property protection time for their products and what the generic manufacturers want. Everybody would have gotten something but nobody would have gotten everything. It's called "the art of the deal," folks! Trump would also surely have required that all signatories combat trafficking in endangered wildlife parts, like elephant tusks and rhino horns, and end all their subsidies that stimulate overfishing.
And Trump, who has a lot of Chinese restaurants in his hotels, would know that if we walk away from the TPP all our friends in the Pacific will just sign up for China's RCEP, or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will set trade rules in Asia and include weak intellectual property protections, no labor or environmental protections and no disciplines on state-owned industries.
So that's the Pacific trade deal Trump would have struck! And by now I hope you've figured something out: This is the trade deal Obama actually struck.
You don't know that because Trump doesn't know it himself; because Bernie Sanders knows it and doesn't want to tell you; and because Hillary Clinton knows it but, sadly, won't tell you, choosing instead to play "Bernie Lite." (Remind me how that worked out for her in Michigan.)
No trade deal is perfect. No single deal will save every job or remake our economy. And we must be more generous in caring for workers hurt by trade. But we also have to recognize that smart deals, like the TPP, help keep us the most efficient and innovative economy in the world and strengthen our security alliances — as opposed to abandoning our allies to regimes that don't support our values.
Thank goodness we had a former community organizer negotiating for us.
Thomas Friedman writes for The New York Times.