Here's how Trump's anti-trade stance could backfire

Trump: NAFTA worst trade deal in history

Pivoting towards the general election, Donald Trump on Tuesday outlined in greater detail his view of America's path towards greater prosperity, especially for workers left out of the global economy.

Speaking in a former steel town south of Pittsburgh, Trump blasted free trade agreements and said his presidential administration would go aggressively after China, linking both issues back to the loss of American manufacturing jobs.

"We allowed foreign countries to subsidize their goods, devalue their currencies, violate their agreements, and cheat in every way imaginable," Trump said, according to a transcript of his remarks distributed by his campaign. "Trillions of our dollars and millions of our jobs flowed overseas as a result."

While experts and economists recognized the manufacturing losses that free trade agreements have spurred, some said Trump's proposed policies would only make matters worse.

"The challenge in responding to Trump is this, which is that the grievances that he identified in a lot of cases are very legitimate ones," Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said. "The problem is his responses are going to make things much worse."

The plans Trump outlined focused largely on international trade. He lambasted the North American Free Trade Agreement as "the worst trade deal in history" and promised to renegotiate better terms for NAFTA or withdraw from the deal altogether if America's partners do not agree.

He also took time to criticize the recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he called the "death blow for American manufacturing." He said that China would enter the TPP through a "backdoor" later on, and that if elected he would withdraw the U.S. from the TPP given the deal has not yet been ratified.

Matthew Slaughter, a professor of international business and dean of Dartmouth's Business School, said that trade agreements have overall generated gains for America and that sitting on the sidelines would lead to missing out on opportunities. He also said many of Trump's statements would not pass standards for academic scholarly research.

"If the United States is not participating in global agreements, the rest of the world isn't going to stop negotiating them among themselves," Slaughter said. "What America needs is a much stronger, smarter, better-funded social safety net so that we don't lose the benefits of trade."

In both criticizing NAFTA and TPP, Trump sought to tie his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to the deals in her former capacities as first lady and secretary of state. Clinton had supported NAFTA as first lady, and served as Obama's top diplomat during TPP negotiations, though she has since backed away from both policies.

During the length of the speech, Trump's most strident remarks were reserved for China. Calling China's entry into the World Trade Organization an enabler of "the greatest jobs theft in history," he said he would instruct his treasury secretary to label China as a currency manipulator, and would have his trade representative bring trade cases against the country — both in the U.S. and the World Trade Organization.

However, some experts did not place much stock in his proposals. David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Treasury Department emissary to China, said that it would be difficult to see how any economist would call China a currency manipulator given the country has lately been intervening to keep its currency high. He also noted that President Barack Obama's administration has pursued a high number of trade cases against China.

"I don't believe that taking a protectionist route is going to make Americans more prosperous," Dollar said.

Dollar, along with other economists, said there was no backdoor in the TPP agreement for China to enter through, and praised the proposal as one made among a group of countries with which the U.S. has relatively balanced trade and promotes good jobs.

However, not all experts were in agreement that Trump's proposed policies were wrong-headed.

"Its unfortunate that Donald Trump is Donald Trump but he's really dead right on this issue," said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. "You might not like his tone but he's got it, he's got it cold."

Morici said the U.S. must renegotiate its current trade agreements, and that doing so would create millions of jobs.

"If we fix trade we fix the economy," Morici added.