Free trade was the biggest loser of the 2016 election.
An August poll by the Pew Research Center found that 47 percent of voters view free trade as harmful.
Among Republicans, long considered the party of free trade, opposition rose from 39 percent to 61 percent in just over a year.
Absent a sudden shift in public opinion, the outlook doesn’t look bright for increased commerce with our neighbors and the wider world.
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But such a shift is urgently needed. Free trade is critical for America’s long-term prosperity.
One of the great tasks facing our leaders, in politics and business, is to restore Americans’ trust in free trade.
The story of free trade is the story of local communities across the country. For my part, I have seen the immense benefits in my hometown of Laredo.
Twenty-five years ago, most people would have written off this small border city. In January 1990, unemployment hovered at 14.5 percent, nearly three times higher than the national average.
Then came the North American Free Trade Agreement and the possibility of increased trade with our neighbors across the Rio Grande.
Today, despite its small population of 260,000, Laredo is the third-largest trade port in the entire nation, behind only New York City and Los Angeles.
Between January and August of this year, over $186 billion in imports and exports flowed through the city.
Last year alone, over $121 billion in American exports were routed through Laredo.
This has transformed our community and profoundly impacted people’s lives.
Unemployment plummeted; it stood at 5.2 percent in September.
Up to half of the city’s jobs are now directly or indirectly related to trade.
And the city’s population more than doubled over the last two-and-a-half decades.
But the benefits of free trade aren’t restricted to Laredo — far from it.
Free trade, whether with Mexico, Canada or any nation, opens new markets for American-made goods and brings a bounty of affordable products to American shelves.
Every dollar that American companies make through exports is a dollar that they wouldn’t have otherwise made, and they can spend it on innovation, higher wages and more jobs.
Seen through this lens, the $710 billion in goods that we export to our free-trade partners directly benefits millions of American families.
Those same families win again through imports.
Thanks to affordable imported goods, free trade boosts the average American household’s income by $10,000, especially helping low-income workers’ dollars go farther.
Are there winners and losers with trade? Absolutely, and we cannot ignore or downplay their plight.
But the solution isn’t to abandon free trade — it’s to come together in our communities and as a nation to help people earn the skills needed to work in the 21st century.
To reject free trade is to cause more harm to more people.
To embrace free trade, on the other hand, is to unleash greater gains for people at every level of society.
The United States currently enjoys free-trade agreements with a mere 20 countries, yet these countries account for half of America’s exports.
We also sell them far more in manufactured goods than we buy — nearly $300 billion more between 2008 and 2015, to be exact.
Overall, 95 percent of consumers of American goods and services live outside of the United States.
Behind these numbers are millions of people whose lives are made immeasurably better by free trade and the countless doors it opens.
We can improve even more lives if we expand the list of smart, fairly negotiated free-trade agreements in the coming years.
That’s why we must trumpet the benefits of free trade far and wide.
Failing to do so is a disservice to the millions of Americans whose lives could be improved by it.
There’s little doubt that free trade was 2016’s biggest loser. But every American needs it to start winning, because when free trade wins, then so do we.
Dennis Nixon is CEO and chairman of International Bank of Commerce in Laredo.