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June 2008 Archive for The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

Trade Straight Talk

Jun 30, 2008
 
Canada offers fewer electoral votes than Rhode Island or Wyoming in a U.S. presidential election, but Senator John McCain still thought our northern neighbor was worth a visit last week.
 
The presumptive Republican nominee’s speech to the Economic Club of Canada allowed him to highlight his views on free trade, which represent what may be one of the starkest policy differences between him and his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.
 
During the primaries, Obama campaigned as a protectionist. He labeled the North American Free Trade Agreement “a big mistake” and even suggested that the United States should pull out of it.
 
More recently, Obama has moderated his rhetoric, suggesting that he didn’t really mean what he said about NAFTA. That’s good, because in my book flip flops are welcome when candidates abandon wrongheaded opinions in favor of wiser ones.
 
Yet it’s even more preferable when they don’t have to change their views at all--that is, when their views are rooted in something deeper than a desire to achieve a temporary political advantage.
 
Earlier this month, Peter Cook of Bloomberg asked McCain a frank question: “Are you prepared to lose votes and stick to your support for free trade?” McCain’s reply was unequivocal: “I’ve always been prepared to lose votes for what I know is right.”
 
Even Big Labor’s fiercest protectionists have to give McCain grudging credit for this level of candor. When other candidates pandered to Ohio primary voters with populist balderdash, the man who rides the “Straight Talk Express” explained his views in a town-hall meeting: “The economists that I know and trust and the history that I study ... says that free trade is the best thing that can happen to our nation. When we have practiced protectionism, it has had devastating consequences.”
 
During a debate in Michigan, when other presidential candidates dumped on trade to impress the citizens of a state with a stumbling economy, McCain stuck to his guns. “Every time the United States has become protectionist and listened to the siren song that you’re hearing partially on this stage tonight, we’ve paid a very heavy price,” he said. “Free trade has been the engine of our economy. Free trade should be the continuing principle that guides this nation’s economy.”
 
For McCain, trade isn’t just something he talks about. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that monitors congressional trade votes, puts the matter plainly: “John McCain has been a consistent proponent of free trade during his time in the U.S. Senate.”
 
One of his most important votes involved approving NAFTA, the accord with Canada and Mexico. These two countries now buy about a third of all American exports.
 
Whereas Obama’s exact position on NAFTA remains uncertain, McCain used his forum in Canada last week to reiterate his commitment to international trade: “For all the successes of NAFTA, we have to defend it without equivocation in political debate, because it is critical to the future of so many Canadian and American workers and businesses. Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls.”
 
McCain didn’t mention Obama by name, which was appropriate because partisan criticism is one American product that we shouldn’t seek to sell abroad. Just before his trip, however, he penned a sharp column for readers of the Detroit Free Press. “Senator Obama’s take-it-or-leave-it approach to dealing with America’s friends would not rebuild the alliance relationships we need,” he wrote.
 
McCain also condemned “a misguided, isolationist impulse that would inevitably and understandably alienate a key partner like Canada.”
 
The current political climate demands a strong defense of existing trade agreements, but fortunately McCain has thought about how to do more than preserve the status quo. For instance, he has called for passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, a measure that’s currently languishing in Congress, and a McCain trip to Colombia is being discussed. He has also envisioned a deal with the European Union--EUFTA, or, phonetically, “Yoofta.”
 
It’s all in keeping with what he told the Canadians--as well as any Americans who may have been listening: “I aspire to lead a proud, outward-looking America that deepens its partnerships throughout the hemisphere and the world.”
 
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org
 

Trade Straight Talk

Jun 27, 2008
Canada offers fewer electoral votes than Rhode Island or Wyoming in a U.S. presidential election, but Senator John McCain still thought our northern neighbor was worth a visit last week.
 
The presumptive Republican nominee’s speech to the Economic Club of Canada allowed him to highlight his views on free trade, which represent what may be one of the starkest policy differences between him and his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.
 
During the primaries, Obama campaigned as a protectionist. He labeled the North American Free Trade Agreement “a big mistake” and even suggested that the United States should pull out of it.
 
More recently, Obama has moderated his rhetoric, suggesting that he didn’t really mean what he said about NAFTA. That’s good, because in my book flip flops are welcome when candidates abandon wrongheaded opinions in favor of wiser ones.
 
Yet it’s even more preferable when they don’t have to change their views at all--that is, when their views are rooted in something deeper than a desire to achieve a temporary political advantage.
 
Earlier this month, Peter Cook of Bloomberg asked McCain a frank question: “Are you prepared to lose votes and stick to your support for free trade?” McCain’s reply was unequivocal: “I’ve always been prepared to lose votes for what I know is right.”
 
Even Big Labor’s fiercest protectionists have to give McCain grudging credit for this level of candor. When other candidates pandered to Ohio primary voters with populist balderdash, the man who rides the “Straight Talk Express” explained his views in a town-hall meeting: “The economists that I know and trust and the history that I study ... says that free trade is the best thing that can happen to our nation. When we have practiced protectionism, it has had devastating consequences.”
 
During a debate in Michigan, when other presidential candidates dumped on trade to impress the citizens of a state with a stumbling economy, McCain stuck to his guns. “Every time the United States has become protectionist and listened to the siren song that you’re hearing partially on this stage tonight, we’ve paid a very heavy price,” he said. “Free trade has been the engine of our economy. Free trade should be the continuing principle that guides this nation’s economy.”
 
For McCain, trade isn’t just something he talks about. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that monitors congressional trade votes, puts the matter plainly: “John McCain has been a consistent proponent of free trade during his time in the U.S. Senate.”
 
One of his most important votes involved approving NAFTA, the accord with Canada and Mexico. These two countries now buy about a third of all American exports.
 
Whereas Obama’s exact position on NAFTA remains uncertain, McCain used his forum in Canada last week to reiterate his commitment to international trade: “For all the successes of NAFTA, we have to defend it without equivocation in political debate, because it is critical to the future of so many Canadian and American workers and businesses. Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls.”
 
McCain didn’t mention Obama by name, which was appropriate because partisan criticism is one American product that we shouldn’t seek to sell abroad. Just before his trip, however, he penned a sharp column for readers of the Detroit Free Press. “Senator Obama’s take-it-or-leave-it approach to dealing with America’s friends would not rebuild the alliance relationships we need,” he wrote.
 
McCain also condemned “a misguided, isolationist impulse that would inevitably and understandably alienate a key partner like Canada.”
 
The current political climate demands a strong defense of existing trade agreements, but fortunately McCain has thought about how to do more than preserve the status quo. For instance, he has called for passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, a measure that’s currently languishing in Congress, and a McCain trip to Colombia is being discussed. He has also envisioned a deal with the European Union--EUFTA, or, phonetically, “Yoofta.”
 
It’s all in keeping with what he told the Canadians--as well as any Americans who may have been listening: “I aspire to lead a proud, outward-looking America that deepens its partnerships throughout the hemisphere and the world.”
 
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org
 

Pivot Time

Jun 20, 2008
I’m ready for a change I can believe in--specifically, for Barack Obama to back away from the protectionist rhetoric that has marred his presidential campaign.
 
We’re about to enter the phase of our presidential season that might be called The Pivot. With both the Democrats and Republicans having settled on their presumptive nominees, the candidates will start trying to appeal to the independents who don’t participate in the primary process.
 
That’s one reason why John McCain has talked about global warming in recent weeks: Conservatives remain skeptical of it, but other voters may want to hear him address the issue.
 
I’ve looked forward to The Pivot for one simple reason: Democrats now have a chance rethink the harmful things they’ve said about free trade for much of this year.
 
A few months ago, it got so ugly that when Senator Obama was scrambling for votes in Ohio, he talked openly about quitting the North American Free Trade Agreement. “I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out,” he threatened. At the very least, he promised to “renegotiate” this pact with our two most important trading partners.
 
This is madness. Every day, the United States, Canada, and Mexico trade more than $2 billion in goods and services. Almost 30 percent of America’s international trade is with these two nations. Since NAFTA was passed, our gross domestic product has grown by 50 percent and we’ve created 26 million new jobs.
 
Obama’s attacks on free trade haven’t earned him much praise from the rest of the world, which is suddenly apprehensive about an economic isolationist taking up residence in the White House. “It is very irresponsible, in my view, to pretend to people that we can disengage from international trade,” warned Peter Mandelson, the European Union’s trade chief.
 
The good news is that Obama is a savvy politician who knows that protectionism won’t play everywhere. Last month, when he was campaigning in Indiana, he acknowledged a simple truth: “We’re going to have to trade.”
 
Indeed, we are--especially when exports are a genuine strength in an economy that’s showing signs of stress.
 
More recently, Obama has indicated that he really doesn’t intend to wage a war on trade. In an interview with Fortune this week, he seemed to suggest that his attacks on NAFTA were too harsh. “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,” he said. “Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself.”
 
He has made other positive statements as well. “I believe in free trade,” he said on CNBC last week. “As somebody who lived overseas, who has family overseas, I’ve seen what’s happened in terms of rising living standards around the globe. And that’s a good thing for America; it’s good for our national security.”
 
Unfortunately, the senator went on to bash trade that lifts “corporate profits.” You would think that he’d realize that a lot of Americans actually work for corporations and own shares of stock in them. Still, this is progress. A logical next step might involve building upon his support of last year’s free-trade agreement with Peru and embracing a similar pact with Colombia.
 
At the very least, Senator Obama should start listening to what some of his fellow Democrats are saying.
 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House of Representatives, writes former Carter administration official C. Fred Bergsten, have “hamstrung U.S. trade policy and created the gravest threat to the global trading system in decades.” Bergsten’s think tank, the Peterson Institute for International Economics, calculates that trade liberalization since the Second World War has enriched the United States by $1 trillion annually and that gains of another $500 billion per year are within reach.
 
Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council--an organization that helped propel the political success of Bill Clinton--also wants his party to reject protectionism. “Globalization is here to stay. We need to respond with American ingenuity and optimism, rather than fear,” he wrote recently. “For important moral reasons that go to our party’s first principles, Democrats should support efforts to expand trade. No American who works full time should be poor. Growing the economy and creating jobs remain the best ways to fight poverty, and neither is possible with a cocoon around our economy.”
 
That’s sound advice--words that Barack Obama should come to believe in, before he tries to sell Americans a change that he hopes they can believe in.
 
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org
 
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