“Individual ambition serves the common good,” wrote Adam Smith, masterful 18th century analyst of emerging industrial capitalism. Freer trade reflects collective coordination of national ambition.

Just before the Memorial Day recess, the U.S. Senate approved fast track authority requested by the Obama administration. This means there will be an up or down vote, with no nitpicking on details, on the anticipated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty currently approaching the finish line of negotiation. In the final vote, fourteen Democrats joined a uniform phalanx of Republican senators to pass the measure 62-37.

The recent visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was timed to coincide with these negotiations. Agriculture and autos are particularly difficult areas on which to find agreement between Tokyo and Washington.

A similar trade pact is being negotiated among Atlantic area nations. The Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) likewise will involves a series of complex compromises to succeed.

These regional negotiations follow several important bilateral trade agreements. In 2011, after four years delay, the U.S. Congress ratified free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Approval was timed to coincide with the visit of South Korea President Lee Myung-bak. The largest bilateral trade agreement in history ended tariffs on more than 90% of trade categories between the two nations.

South Korea reflects other Asia economies in abandoning previous protectionism designed to shelter promising but weak domestic enterprises. Following the Korean War, the nation was among the poorest in the world, but today ranks among the richest and most productive economies in the world.

These trade agreements also generated bipartisan Congressional support. Normally warring Democrats and Republicans found temporary consensus on international trade.

Since the Second World War, regular comprehensive international negotiations have expanded trade in both goods and services. The limited Dillon Round during the Eisenhower administration was followed by the Kennedy Round, a comprehensive reduction in trade barriers completed in 1967. Sentimental but also substantive reasons led to naming these breakthrough negotiations for the assassinated president, who initiated the effort and secured fast track authority from Congress.

The landmark Kennedy achievement was followed by the Tokyo Round completed in the 1970s, and the Uruguay Round in the 1980s. The Uruguay Round during the Reagan administration, spearheaded by U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter, was a major success. The current Doha Round, expanded to include developing nations, is stalled by vexing agriculture issues separating Africa and Europe.

In 1944 at Bretton Woods New Hampshire, in the midst of global war, the Allies hammered out the post-war economic structure, to operate under the UN - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), formed in 1948, became the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Functions of the institutions have changed, but the structures have proven remarkably durable. Those leaders planned long-term.

The original United Nations vision was in the Atlantic Charter, announced by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt after their epic Newfoundland summit several months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many associate FDR more closely than Churchill with the UN. However, the British leader in his comprehensive history of the Second World War notes that he wrote the first draft of the Charter.

Adam Smith and others believed free trade was related to political freedom. His economics classic “The Wealth of Nations” was published in 1776.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He can be reached at acyr@carthage.edu.