It’s been fashionable for Democrats to discuss how polarizing and racist President Trump is to justify predicting a “blue wave.” Meanwhile Republicans point to the economy’s apparent strength and the favorability of the tax cuts (don’t Republicans always laser-focus on tax cuts? For all the rhetoric Republicans spew, the party remains largely a single issue one – CUT TAXES ON ANYONE AND EVERYTHING!). But what about President Trump’s unconventional approach to trade? He’s been called a protectionist, but it seems unlike other issues where he’s immovable, he’s actually using the THREAT OF PROTECTIONISM to attempt striking better deals for the country in a very pragmatic manner.
Trump’s decision to arbitrarily pull the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a disaster for the US as a whole in the geopolitical realm as well as for the west coast states in terms of long-term economic growth and investment. But it has relatively little impact in Florida other than perhaps making us, like the rest of the planet more vulnerable to Chinese aggression both economic and politically. But beyond the TPP or perhaps learning from the mistake of arbitrarily withdrawing American involvement in it, Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t actually matched his actions. He’s huffed and puffed while making threats. Ultimately, however he’s either left deals in place or negotiated new and arguably more favorable ones for the US.
Florida, if it were an independent country would have the 17th largest economy in the world – in theory free trade could work for the state but in reality Florida has suffered from increased competition and the inability of Republican legislators to attract high-end professional business to the state. For all of Governor Rick Scott’s claims of jump-starting Florida’s economy, high-end white collar jobs in Florida are hardly growing more quickly than the population rate.
Florida is very different than most mega-states on the issue of trade. Here’s why:
- NAFTA adversely impacted the bottom line for Florida agriculture. While most of the nation has dissimilar weather to Mexico, we don’t. Winter weather crops especially fruits and vegetables became easier to import from Mexico and other areas with free trade agreements.
- Florida’s aerospace industry has over many years been damaged by the subsidies to similar companies in the EU and Canada.
- An estimated 20,000 plus jobs were lost in Florida due to NAFTA between 1994-2003 according to the Economic Policy Institute.
- Different metrics can be manipulated to tell us different things, but Florida’s lack of a robust manufacturing sector compared to similar-sized states or even neighboring states means little in the way of open markets exist for manufactured goods from Florida.
Ultimately for some in Florida not either business ideologues or hard-core isolationists, “fair trade” might be better than “free trade,” or “protectionism.” The battle like so much in American society has been case as one between free trade, and the implication of zero barriers between nations in terms of economics and protectionism where America builds a wall or enacts tariffs to stop foreign goods from flooding the market.
The sense among many if that Trump’s approach which is to rally the isolationists/protectionists and displaced workers rhetorically but actually pursue a third way, the middle ground of fair trade and new deals might pay off for Florida long-term. But will it matter in this election? Will the willingness of Canada and Mexico to rip up NAFTA and create USMCA matter this quickly? Will the apparent eagerness of China and the EU to sit down with the US to try and cull Trump’s perceived protectionist impulses impact the Florida electorate on November 6?
Polling data doesn’t tell us much about these trade issues, but in an election that’s likely to be close up and down the ballot, could it make a difference? My sense is yes, so keep an eye on trade as a factor in the home stretch of the 2018 campaign in Florida.