As U.S. presidential hopefuls continue to battle through the primary season, America's trade policies have risen to the top of the political discourse.
Although there has always been opposition to free trade measures, recent decades have seen political leadership in the U.S. tending to push agendas focused on removing trade barriers between the U.S. and other countries. Both sides of the issue argue that jobs and the economy are at stake, but they disagree on the question of results and how domestic economic success is really defined.
To start with, free trade is the practice of removing restrictions on imports and exports between countries. Such restrictions can include bans, quotas and taxes among other measures. Many governments have sought to sign bi- or multilateral free trade agreements constituting an agreement to mutually lower these barriers. The U.S. currently has 14 agreements with 20 countries, according to the Commerce Department.
Republicans have often argued for such measures as an extension of their free market economic goals, and Democratic presidents such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have joined in supporting major international trade deals. Opposition has tended to come from the pro-labor quarters of American liberalism, as unions worry their constituencies won't be able to compete against cheap foreign workers.
This has played out prominently in recent debates over a proposed Pacific trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would include 11 countries besides the United States — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.