Trade Deals And Exports

It’s clear that increasing net exports is one of the most plausible routes to increasing American output and employment. But when Bill Galston proposes that President Obama say things like this, I scratch my head:

Last year I set a goal of doubling our exports by the middle of the decade. We’re on track to do that, but we can’t reach our goal unless we complete action on trade treaties that have been stalled much too long.

Really? Ratification of a trade pact with tiny Panama is critical to the future of American industry? I don’t buy it and neither should you. The fact of the matter is that these treaties are complicated, and largely deal with non-trade issues like intellectual property regulation. But even if we were talking about a pure trade treaty with a major economy, it clearly can’t be the case that trade deals systematically boost net exports. There’s two sides to every treaty, and while the total volume of trade between the countries can go up, they can’t both see net exports rise. It seems to me that if you look at the politics of trade over the past 20 years, the main impact of these kind of dishonest sales jobs has been to totally undermine public support for trade agreements.