While President Barack Obama's handling of the economy has been criticized by his opponents, one area where he has shown leadership is on trade policy, specifically a free-trade area dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Negotiations have been under way for a year and will resume this month in Virginia.
The aim is to lay down a trans-Pacific framework to expand trade and investment. This goal has been embraced by trade and business groups. With long-term growth prospects in Europe looking bleaker, the construction of trans-Pacific pathways to free trade and investment has immense commercial logic for exporters.
In 2011, U.S. exports rebounded from the economic slump in 2010. Worldwide, they increased 20 percent, but to Asian economies they increased 30 percent to 35 percent. And while China's economy is expected to slow, growth in Asia is still expected to lead the world for the next two decades at least.
Not all major Asian economies are participating in the negotiations. China is not, nor is Japan or South Korea, although both support it and are considering joining. Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei are negotiating, along with Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile.
The plan is to create a trans-Pacific agreement that could be expanded to include all members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group. China and Russia are members of APEC, along with the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations economies and Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Unwisely, the Obama administration has bowed to pressure from organized labor and environmental groups to include measures that work against that goal. It has proposed that the agreement advance labor and environmental standards proposed by U.S. unions and green groups. That's unwise.
First, it would doom the TPP agreement. Developing countries would see it as a strategy to reduce their competitiveness and growth. They made it perfectly clear at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June that labor and environmental standards must fit their economic circumstances.
Meeting U.S. labor standards or imposing Environmental Protection Agency rules, which is the standard U.S. and labor groups want, would instantly make producers in developing countries globally uncompetitive.
That's what U.S. unions and environmental groups want. The vision of the United Steelworkers is high tariff barriers protecting businesses that build expensive wind turbines to replace U.S. coal-powered electricity generators. This would produce a low-growth economy and low-tech industries. Unemployment would be high, but steel workers would be well-paid.
This is a prescription that will produce the low productivity economies blighting Europe today. Raising trade barriers has been a long-standing ambition of the steel workers union. It has repolished the idea recently as a tool to advance the "green economy." This allies the union to the environmental movement, whose influence has expanded while organized labor's has waned.
Such an alliance is an easy fit for groups such as the Worldwide Fund for Nature. With U.S. unemployment at persistently high rates, the group and others like it nevertheless continue pushing for policies that will raise costs and retard economic recovery.
From left, Lisa Peng, daughter of Peng Ming, Grace Ge Geng, daughter of Gao Zhisheng, and Ti-Anna Wang, daughter of Wang Bingzhang, hold pictures of their imprisoned fathers during a House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building titled “Their Daughters Appeal to Beijing: ‘Let Our Fathers Go!’”
Each year since 1990, CQ Roll Call has reviewed the financial disclosures of all 541 senators, representatives and delegates to determine the 50 richest members of Congress. This year's report, derived from forms covering the calendar year 2012, shows it took a net worth of $6.67 million to crack the exclusive club.