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A Nation Engaged: Trade Stirs Up Sharp Debate In This Election Cycle

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A container ship is unloaded at the Port of Los Angeles. Voters in this year's presidential election have deep feelings about trade — and often are at odds with each other about it.

In this year's election cycle, international trade has emerged as a top campaign issue.

So journalists with NPR and several public-radio member stations set out this week to examine trade matters as part of our special election-year series: A Nation Engaged.

We journalists learned a lot about what Americans are saying about trade. You can join in the learning process and conversation on this page, where we've pulled together the stories and interviews.

If you don't have time to dive into all of it, here are some of the comments that helped us tell stories about the good and bad impacts of trade.

  • Mike John, Missouri cattle rancher: "This pending TPP trade negotiation, to me, is hugely important for agricultural commodities, but specifically for beef. ... The Asian markets are showing a huge increase in demand for beef."
  • Dennis Roach, truck driver: "Jobs are going to foreign countries, we're shipping more products in from overseas. ... I bet you go to anybody's house and look in their closet and it says: Indonesia, China, Japan, Taiwan. Very few things are made in the USA."
  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: "Commerce between two countries, throughout history, has always, has almost always, led to improving quality of life on both sides."
  • David Autor, MIT labor economist: "If I lose my job at a furniture factory where I've worked for decades, no amount of cheaper toys and raincoats at Wal-Mart is going to make me whole again."
  • Congressional Research Service: "NAFTA did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters. The net overall effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy appears to have been relatively modest."
  • Ron Kirk, former U.S. trade representative and former Dallas mayor: "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. ... There are literally thousands of Texans who owe their livelihoods to the production and movement of goods to consumers around the world."
  • John Hansen, Nebraska Farmers Union president and opponent of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement: "We have a more positive balance of trade with countries that we do not have a trade agreement with. We'd be better off if we did nothing than we did something that's destructive."

Listen to the audio above for a discussion of trade in the political season with NPR's Michel Martin, NPR's Marilyn Geewax and Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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