Critics of trade overlook its advantages to U.S. workers

Trade cynics claim that trade disadvantages the U.S. worker. The truth, however, is that in some cases the U.S. worker is already at a disadvantage, and trade agreements — like the Panama Trade Promotion Agreement — can actually level the playing field for working Americans.

Under various U.S. preference programs designed to help developing countries, most imports from Panama already enter the United States duty-free. U.S. goods, however, face an average duty of 8 percent when entering Panama. Once implemented, the Panama pact will immediately reduce that average tariff by 58 percent, to just over 3 percent.

Trade cynics like to talk about deficits. Well, here are the facts: In 2008, the United States had a trade surplus of $21 billion in manufactured products with our FTA partner countries, including NAFTA. After NAFTA went into force, the U.S. economy added almost 17 million jobs. Before CAFTA was implemented in 2005, the United States had a trade deficit with the region of over $1.2 billion. Upon implementation, the United States swung to a surplus that has grown every year since and is now over $6 billion.

A colleague of mine from Maine holds himself out as a trade cynic. To him, I would point out that over 20,000 jobs in Maine depend on exports of manufactured goods and that a sizeable chunk of Maine’s $3 billion in exports in 2008 went to Canada, a NAFTA partner. In that same year, Maine exported $122 million in goods to China, up 3,117 percent since 2000. Furthermore, in 2008 trade quite literally held up our economy. Without the export growth that we experienced, there would have been no positive economic growth at all.

Trade cynics would have you believe that trade agreements create a race to the bottom for global labor standards. Not so. The Panama agreement will, in fact, raise labor standards in Panama. Panama will be required to adopt, maintain, and enforce in its own laws and in practice the five basic internationally recognized labor standards, as stated in the 1998 ILO Declaration. Without implementation of the trade agreement, however, there’s no obligation on Panama to improve its labor standards.

Furthermore, since 2002 Panama has been an OECD “committed jurisdiction,” which means that Panama is committed to working with the OECD to ensure that its tax system is transparent and that it has procedures in place for the effective exchange of tax information.

I have a challenge for my colleagues: Before becoming a trade cynic, take the time to look closely at the facts.


Dems’ dictatorial tactic

From Howard Lohmuller

(Regarding article “Dem senators press to sidestep GOP on climate change,” March 28, and related coverage.) For the Democrat-led Congress to pass a carbon-based climate change bill using the budget reconciliation method, needing only 50 votes in the Senate, is the equivalent of Julius Caesar and his army crossing the Rubicon. From then on, Rome ceased to be a republic and became a dictatorship.

A carbon-based climate law opens the door to a new form of taxation that could grow into a source of government revenue greater than the income tax. The United Nations could also tax Americans and other participants. Non-participants such as China and India would benefit from lower comparative prices and gain a trading advantage because businesses in America would pass on the tax as higher prices to its consumers.

Seabrook, Texas

Rename Notre Dame

From Matt C. Abbott

(Regarding article “Fighting Irish lawmakers mad over Obama’s honor,” March 26.) I’m very disappointed — but not surprised — that the Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, will not withdraw the invitation to President Obama to be the commencement speaker, considering the president’s strong support for so-called abortion rights.

Since the university has lost whatever Catholic identity it had left, I submit that there should be a name change: How about “The University Formerly Known As Notre Dame”?


Tax hypocrisy

From Dick Vaughan

The largest-ever federal tax increase on tobacco takes effect Wednesday, with the revenue going toward children’s healthcare. Our government is a huge hypocrite — telling you on one hand that smoking is dangerous for your health, then taxing it to pay for healthcare for children. And you wonder why Americans don’t trust their government. They’re crooks, hypocrites and control freaks.

Albuquerque, N.M.