June 2, 2016

A vote for protectionism or free trade?

Special to Business Standard

The future role of the United States in the world economy has been a recurring theme in the 2016 American presidential election. Republican candidate Donald Trump has called for a 45 per cent tariff on US imports from China. All of the leading presidential candidates from both parties have criticised the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a recently negotiated US trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations. And US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew recently warned in Foreign Affairs about a return to the “historical ambivalence of the United States towards global engagement”.

But what do Americans actually think about their nation’s future in the global marketplace? The first thing to understand is that despite the rhetoric in this year’s presidential campaign, trade is not a chief concern for most people in the US. Americans ranked trade dead last (of 18 options) when asked about top priorities for the White House and Congress in the coming year, according to a January 2016 Pew Research Center survey.

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