Suzanne Nossel has a smart list up of “of 5 issues where progressives are well-positioned to build public support based on existing policies, and 5 areas where more work needs to be done” and wisely includes trade on the list of things where viable progressive consensus seems lacking. A big part of the problem here, I think, is that not only are liberals famously divided about trade issues, but these disagreements almost exclusively conceptualize trade issues as economic policy disputes rather than foreign policy ones. Obviously, though, trade agreements are diplomatic pacts formed with foreign countries and form — along with formal and informal military alliances, economic sanctions, international legal institutions, etc. — part of the wide range of non-military tools that can impact foreign governments’ behavior.
For my part, I’ve become considerably more skeptical about the economic case for the multilateral trade regime as it currently exists than I was three or four or five years ago. At the same time, though, I’ve become more convinced of the central role efforts to construct a globalized marketplace have traditionally played — and should continue to play — in the liberal view of American foreign policy. What’s more, I worry that the people who outline trade policy don’t really consider the national security consequences of some of our ideas. People who are rightly leery of things that might provoke a new arms race with China strike me as all-too-eager to embrace policies that will play in Beijing or New Delhi as America-led efforts to strangle Chinese or Indian prosperity in the crib. Adopting such policies would be, I think, a major problem. At the same time, the existing multilateral process has pretty clearly run aground and is creating way too many problems for far too many people to stay viable. The world pretty desperately needs creative ways to get things back on track and redress the many valid concerns about the impact of these agreements in a way that actually facilitates the opening of markets.