When I’m out at trade events, people in the trade world often ask me, as a Cato person, what the tea party thinks of free trade (libertarians are unfamiliar to many of my friends in the trade world, and I’m their only link to such views, so they come to me with anything vaguely related to these issues). I usually say something along the lines of: it’s complicated and nuanced, there are a range of views, and that I’m still trying to find out myself!
Dave Brat, who is associated with the tea party, just made headlines by defeating House Majority leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary. I was thinking about ways to ask him his views on trade, but then Chuck Todd beat me to it (starts at 4:02 of the video):
Chuck Todd: Let me ask you about trade agreements. There’s a couple of big ones likely to come for you to vote on…A big one with Europe, and a big one with Asia. In general, what are your views of trade agreements, are you open to big free trade agreements or not?
Dave Brat: Yeah, I’m a free trader. After World War II, the GATT brought tariffs roughly from 50% down to about 4% or less today. And that’s been good for European trade with us. We set up our arch-enemies Japan and Germany after the war, started trading with them, and it enriched all of us. I have a win-win positive view about relationships with other countries that respect the rule of law. So we have to move forward on that front.
A couple noteworthy things about this response.
First, he doesn’t leave much doubt about his view that free trade, in the form of lower tariffs, is good. That’s not too surprising, given his background as an economics professor. (Although on immigration, his economics fails him.)
Second, he focuses his discussion on tariffs. But trade agreements go far beyond tariffs these days. What does he think about provisions in trade agreements that strengthen intellectual property protection, set binding labor and environment rules, and allow foreign investors to sue governments in international tribunals? I’m curious about his take on the nuances of today’s trade agreements. The question from Chuck Todd does refer to the trade talks with Europe and Asia, which have all these new rules in them, so you could take his response to mean he is fine with everything that might be in the Pacific and European trade agreements under negotiation. But I wouldn’t be sure until he gets asked more directly.
And third, he does note that these views apply to “countries that respect the rule of law.” I’d like to know who he thinks fits that description and who does not.