The 2006 Elections: Come the Protectionists

By November 7, 2006Trade

Here’s a link to a troubling story by Greg Hitt in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Protectionist Stance is Gaining Clout,” about how some Democrats are running against pro-trade Republicans on a protectionist platform.

This, of course, is most unsettling. If the leader of the world trading system turns protectionist, it’ll set the world in a downward economic spiral. We’ll remind you that about 100 Democrats voted for NAFTA, about 70 for Permanent Normal Trading Relations for China, about 23 for fast track in 2001, and 15 for CAFTA. The latter group, for their sins, were singled out by labor for special attack. One of the few areas in which we agreed with President Clinton was in his championing of free trade agreements like NAFTA. Remember that we added hundreds of thousands of auto sector jobs alone in the years after NAFTA passed, a little-known and seldom-cited statistic.

The fact remains that trade agreements are good for US manufacturers in that they lower barriers to entry to US-made goods and thus open more markets to us. Lou Dobbs doesn’t agree, we know, but he’s just dead wrong on this. Over 90% of the manufacturing trade deficit is with countries with which we have no trade agreement.

Unfortunately, in the frenzy to win votes, some candidates — Democrats by Hitt’s reporting — are piecing together an agenda of the lowest common denominator, appealing to people’s worst fears and touting positions that they should know are untrue and that are surely deleterious to our future economic health.

Add this to the list of “What’s at stake” in today’s elections. Should protectionists get a foothold, there will be fewer markets for the goods we make. At the end of the day, it portends bad things for American manufacturers and the prosperity they generate.