Comparative Manufacturing Advantage

President Barack Obama, during a May speech in Oregon, insisted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is good for small-business workers, helps the middle class, and maintains U.S. trade power versus China, which is not a signatory to the 12-nation pact.  “This is not a left issue or right issue, or a business or a labor issue,” Mr. Obama maintained.  “It is about fairness and equity and access.  And like other issues that we’ve waged slow, steady fights on over the last seven years, this is also a question of the past versus the future.”

Indeed, the political left and right united later in the month, with Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate voting to end debate on the international business agreement.  The deal, if approved, would lower tariffs and trade barriers to commerce among Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States.  Ten other countries, including India, are potential members, though China is not one of them.  The agreement must still pass the House, whose Republican leadership has said Democratic votes will be necessary to approve the measure.

Central to the TPP is comparative advantage, a 19th-century economic concept.  Though Mr. Obama did not mention the idea in his speech, others have cited it to defend the deal.  Syndicated columnist...

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