Former Secretary of State James Baker dismissed President-Elect Donald Trump’s calls to renegotiate harmful trade deals and put American workers first during an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Baker, who also served as White House chief of staff and U.S. secretary of treasury under President Ronald Reagan, served as secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush.
“I would disagree with the president-elect. I think NAFTA has been a success, generally speaking.”
“I think we got a hell of a good deal on a lot of those trade deals, and so I disagree with some the statements that the president-elect made while he was campaigning — particularly with respect to the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, which I did negotiate, which morphed, of course, into NAFTA,” Baker said.
The former Reagan and Bush official cast doubt on key tenants of Trump’s trade platform, while advocating for the very trade policies that have helped steadily erode manufacturing in the United States for decades.
One of the “disastrous” trade deals Trump railed most vocally against was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), often charging the deal encourages American companies to move jobs to Mexico.
“I would disagree with the president-elect. I think NAFTA has been a success, generally speaking,” Baker said. “Yes, there are segments in every free trade deal that get hurt when the agreements are implemented. But generally speaking, free trade creates economic growth, promotes economic growth, and creates jobs. And that’s what we’ve seen happen with respect to NAFTA.”
Baker did concede that U.S. manufacturing jobs have been “lost” under current economic policies.
“Now, have we lost a lot of manufacturing jobs? Yes, indeed we have. That’s the vein that I think that the president-elect tapped into,” Baker said.
Baker’s defense of the trade status quo echoes other recent indications many figures in the GOP Establishment have not warmed to the president-elect’s economic plans.
“I don’t want to get into some kind of trade war,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters while discussing a proposal to enact a 35-percent tariff on goods U.S. companies import into the U.S., according to The New York Times.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also expressed misgivings over the implementation of tariffs, favored by many in Trump’s inner circle of economic advisers.
“I think we can get at the goal here,” Ryan said, “which is to keep American businesses American, build things in America, and sell them overseas — that can be properly addressed with comprehensive tax reform.”
Trump has given no indication he is backing away from the trade agenda he detailed on the campaign trail.
The president-elect’s nomination last week of former Reagan trade official Robert Lighthizer to serve as his U.S. trade representative was hailed by skeptics of the GOP Establishment’s free trade orthodoxy.
“Ambassador Lighthizer is going to do an outstanding job representing the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first,” Trump said in a statement last week. “He has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans. He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.”