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Trump's view on trade could shift once in Oval Office, expert says

On the campaign trail, Donald J. Trump criticized America’s free-trade agreements.

But as president, his perspective might change, said John G. Murphy, senior vice president for international policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“There has been significant continuity in U.S. trade policy since World War II,” Murphy said Wednesday. “And I think once in office, Donald Trump will see the benefits of trade for the economy and for advancing U.S. interests around the world in a somewhat different light than he has as a candidate.”

He added, “it will be an influence, but I’m not predicting a conversion on the road to Damascus.”

Murphy directs the Washington, D.C.-based Chamber’s advocacy effort for international trade and investment policy. He will be the keynote speaker Thursday at the World Trade Center of Buffalo Niagara’s annual meeting at Daemen College in Amherst.

Free-trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership came under fire from Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the campaign. Murphy said it reminded him of the drawn-out primary battle in 2008 between Barack Obama and Clinton, when both candidates criticized U.S. trade policy.

Eight years later, “President Obama is now leaving office having evolved into someone who has become a champion of modernized trade agreements that can open up foreign markets for U.S. exports in a way that is fair and enforceable,” Murphy said.

Obama has advocated for the United States to join the TPP, a trade deal that could include 12 nations. But time is running out for his administration, and it’s unclear if Congress will approve the TPP by year’s end. The deal’s backers say it will benefit U.S. exporters and consumers, while critics call it a job-killing “giveaway” to corporations.

“President Obama has been very committed to see that move in the lame duck (session of Congress),” Murphy said. “But advancing major legislation like a trade agreement in a lame-duck session is always difficult. There’s not much time on the floor in either chamber, and trade agreements do eat up some floor time. So it was always going to be a long shot.”

John Manzella, president and CEO of World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, called Murphy’s visit timely, with a newly chosen president who will direct trade policy. Manzella said uncertainty caused by Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, Chinese volatility and other factors “have prevented companies from making important investment decisions. And not knowing the next American president’s policies has further complicated corporate America’s ability to plan for the future.”

Murphy said he expects a “pause” after Trump takes over, while the new president’s team decides what, if anything, to do differently in future trade agreements.

“It may turn out that even though many of the vital signs of the U.S. economy today are relatively good, it’s been a long expansion and I think many economists believe that a recession is due, simply because the business cycle, it’s a cycle and it comes to an end,” he said. “I think that the incoming administration is going to want to be careful to not do anything to add to uncertainty in the marketplace. So I think they’ll proceed with caution.”

Murphy said he expects trade to remain a prominent issue in the next administration, based on his campaign message.

“Donald Trump as a candidate hasn’t only criticized trade, he’s also talked about how it’s important to the U.S. economy, that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States,” he said. “He has identified these concerns, and I do think that there will be renewed focus on enforcement of existing trade agreements.”

For details on Murphy's appearance at the World Trade Center of Buffalo Niagara meeting, go to

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