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Ron Kirk Talks Trade, Defends Trans-Pacific Partnership


The leading candidates for the Republican and Democratic nomination for president – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton - disagree on just about everything. Everything, it seems, except the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“The TPP is a horrible deal," Trump says. "It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble.”

"When the Trans-Pacific Partnership was finally completed and we could all see what was in it, I opposed it," Clinton said.

As a trade representative in the Obama administration, Ron Kirk helped to craft the TPP. Today on KERA's "Think," he defended the deal.

"The one thing all business is founded on is location," Kirk said. "Meaning you want to be in the center of where there are potentially the largest number of customers. And the 12 countries that make up this Trans-Pacific Partnership represent some of the fastest growing economies in the world and where we believe the largest number of customers will be. And it will give the United States access to over 40 percent of global GDP."

Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, said that the TPP wasn't perfect, but that it was important the United States had a voice in Asian trade negotiations.

"We had to make a hard decision that these countries were going to move forward whether the United States was a part of it or not. And either we would have the opportunity to be at the table and try to craft the rules of how commerce would take place among these countries that affect us – we thought it would be better to be there and learn from our trade mistakes in the past and have a trade agreement that reflected the ability and the realities of doing business today," he said.

Plus, he said, if we weren't leading the conversation, someone else would have.

"Most likely, if we weren’t at the table doing it, then China would have stepped into that void. That wasn’t our motivation for doing this, but it is an added benefit – the fact that we will now be playing on a field under terms and conditions that we helped to dictate"

Today’s episode of "Think" is part of a national project organized by NPR called "A Nation Engaged." You can jump into the conversation on Twitter using #NPRtrade. And listen to the entire conversation below:

We asked Kirk about other elements of foreign trade:

On the importance of international trade to Texas…

“No state benefits more from global trade and global commerce than the State of Texas. In Texas, we lead the country in exports and no other states are close – we export just shy of $300 billion of goods and products and services – those are based on 2014 numbers. And that number is around a little under $30 billion - $28.7 billion – in the North Texas community. There are literally thousands of Texans who owe their livelihoods to the production and movement of goods to consumers around the world.”

On Texas’ trade relationship with Mexico and Canada…

“No state benefited more from NAFTA than the state of Texas. … We do roughly a little more than $3 billion every day of the year in trade between Mexico and Canada."

On supporting workers in Texas …

"There are about 20,000 companies in Texas that just export to the 12 countries in TPP – 91 percent of those are small businesses. If we can help them grow their business, that’s a great way to help workers who are coming into the marketplace, because those small businesses tend to employee and hire locally, and when they grow, they grow at home."

Stephen Becker is senior producer of the Think show , which airs on more than 25 stations across Texas and beyond. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar. His 2011 story about the history of eight-track tapes was featured nationally on NPR's All Things Considered. His works has been recognized with numerous state and national awards.