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Marketplace
President Obama talks trade

Trade agreements, then and now

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Apr 21, 2015
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Congress is turning its attention to trade this week.  Specifically, whether to “fast track” trade agreements, like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Under fast track, Congress can’t change trade deals.  It just gets an up or down vote. But to leave politics aside for a moment, and focus on the economy, take yourself back to 1993. Michael Jordan scores his 20,000th career point.  Whitney Houston tops the charts. And, at the end of the year, President Clinton signs NAFTA into law. The U.S. is king of the global economy.

“The world has changed so much from 1993,” says Susan Ariel Aaronson, research professor of international affairs at George Washington University.  Aaronson says now, we live in more of a multi-polar world. “Brazil is the eighth-largest economy in the world,” she says. “Russia’s economy, I believe, is shrinking.  But it’s still very important.”

And then there’s China.  It was just starting to stretch its economic legs in the early ’90s. “They have increased, dramatically,  their exports all around  the world. So all eyes have been on China,” says Kathryn Dominguez, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan.

Back on the homefront, “the U.S. share of the world economy has declined,” says Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and trade negotiator in the Carter administration.

Hufbauer says the U.S. share has fallen from 27 percent in the early ’90s, to about 20 percent today. But Hufbauer says we still have a lot of bargaining power, because the U.S. is a huge consumer market.  And other countries really want to sell their stuff here. 

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