President Obama made his first official visit to Vietnam last week to promote free trade, witness the signing of an order from a Vietnamese airline for 100 Boeing 737 airliners and lift a ban on arms sales to the Southeast Asian nation four decades after the U.S. ended its war there. He also stopped in Japan.
In a recent blog critiquing Donald Trump’s positions, William Reinsch, a distinguished fellow at The Stimson Center who retired in April as head of the National Foreign Trade Council, stressed that trade deals are often tools for achieving broader strategic goals.
“Trade negotiations are not always about trade. Sometimes they’re about other things. The anti-trade lobbyists have recognized that in their argument that trade negotiations are about power (shifting from the people to large companies) rather than trade. To focus solely on market access gains and losses looks at trade agreements from only one perspective, which is not always the most important one,” he wrote. “The Bahrain FTA, for example, wasn’t about trade; it was about the 5th Fleet and security in the Persian Gulf. Colombia wasn’t just about Colombia; it was also about Venezuela, and so on. If Trump doesn’t see that, he may win a few battles, but he’ll lose all the wars.”