Saturday, March 15, 2008

C-J editorial applauding free trade

A nice (and somewhat surprising) op-ed in today's C-J on the costs and benefits-- and on net, the merits-- of free trade...

There's a rip-roaring argument in Washington about trade policy, and the issue looms large in this year's presidential campaign. In Ohio, the North American Free Trade Agreement has been widely demonized, and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tried to persuade primary voters there that they would "do something about" NAFTA.

This sounds esoteric. It's not.

Far from the Washington Beltway, out here in Kentucky, the U.S.-Columbia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) would have real consequences in real people's lives -- most of them good, in our view.

Kentucky makes huge ($17.2 billion in 2006) export shipments, and they're growing. The state ranked 14th in dollar increase of exports from 2002 to 2006. Kentucky shipments to Columbia totaled $44 million in 2006 -- up 67 percent since 2002.

The U.S. Department of Commerce calculates that 5.3 percent of Kentucky's total private sector employment comprises export-supported jobs that are linked to manufacturing. In 2005, a total of 2,853 firms -- 2,184 of them small- and medium-sized, with fewer than 500 employees -- exported goods from Kentucky.

The Columbia TPA would open new markets for Kentucky exports, including transportation equipment, chemical manufactures, machinery products and agricultural products.

Does free trade work for Kentucky? In the first three years of the U.S.-Singapore agreement (2002-2006), the state's exports to Singapore grew by 68 percent. Under the much-maligned NAFTA, Kentucky's combined exports to Canada and Mexico have grown 4,129 percent.

Columbia is a neighbor -- an ally in a part of the world where the likes of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez would like to destabilize and detach America's friends. So the Columbia TPA is not just an economic issue but also a national security concern. Recent incidents along the Columbian-Venezuelan border illustrate just how fragile international relations in this hemisphere can become.

We have agreed with President Bush on very little, but he was right when he pointed out in his State of the Union speech that Columbia is "a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror, and fighting drug traffickers," and he was right when he warned that "if we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere."

His confrontation with a Democratic Congress heated up this week when Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a free-trade agreement with Colombia won't pass unless Congress legislates new help for U.S. workers who are harmed by overseas competition. In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has proposed expanding so-called "trade adjustment assistance" (TAA) to service workers such as bank tellers and computer programmers, which could double the size of the existing federal TAA program. The President opposes that and threatens to veto a TAA bill passed by the House last year.

Again, this is not esoteric stuff. It's a real argument that will decide whether the U.S. fully exploits its opportunities in the emerging world economy or withdraws into the kind of economic protectionism and isolation that has proven disastrous in the past. Protecting American workers is important, but the first step toward doing that is making sure the U.S. is in the 21st Century's great economic game.

2 Comments:

At March 22, 2008 at 10:51 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

We should drop agreements and go to UFT, unilateral free trade.

 
At March 23, 2008 at 12:11 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Preach it, brother!

 

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