7 ways international trade is like baseball
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The sounds of baseball in October mean the postseason and the World Series.

Meanwhile, the sounds of international trade policy bashing can only mean an election around the corner.

Turns out we can learn a lot about international trade policy from baseball. Let's take a look at seven lessons.

1. The world is not as big as it seems.

The term "World Series" suggests that the entire world is competing, but unlike the Olympics, the teams that make up the Fall Classic come exclusively from Canada and the United States.

For many industries, trade works comparably, with only a few major players constituting the bulk of the competition. Some trade policies are negotiated along regional or plurilateral lines for just this reason — to encompass only the key players or those interested in a specific outcome.

For practical and political reasons, trade policies sometimes succeed best when they are among neighbors or those with shared interests. The pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement — which unites 12 Pacific Rim countries into an 800-million trading bloc that covers 40 percent of the global economy — is one such example. As the larger global institutions face headwinds, we may see more of this in the future.

2. Sometimes the toughest competitors come from our own country.

Let's look at the two teams competing in this year's World Series, hailing from nearby Ohio and Illinois.

Baseball teams often have intense rivalries with teams from just across the bay, around the beltway, through the subway or up the interstate. Companies do, too. But international trade policy wrongly presumes that we only compete against foreigners, and that all a country's corporate citizens are batting for the same team.

This is a quaint, but absurd, notion.

3. Of course, the reverse is also true.

Foreigners often play for our team. Major League Baseball reported that about one-quarter of players at the start of the 2013 season were born outside the United States. This means that the rosters of many teams contain citizens from other countries.

In today's world of global supply chains, this is equally common. Like baseball, individuals from across the global depend upon each other as they collectively work to make a product and deliver a service.

4. Traditional statistics don't always tell the whole story.

Baseball stats are generated in massive volumes to measure all aspects of the game. But in the early 2000s, Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane realized that traditional statistics often do a poor job of measuring a baseball player's capabilities and performance. So he came up with new ones to evaluate baseball talent and guide his underfunded team to the playoffs two years in a row.

Traditional trade stats — most notably the trade deficit — also render a poor snapshot of whether a trade policy is successful. Newer metrics, such as those that also take into account the beneficial role of imports to American jobs and the U.S. economy, can go a lot further in promoting winning trade policies.

5. Every baseball player knows that individual fundamentals matter to the success of the team.

Baseball makes many assumptions about the course of play during a game because many outcomes are predictable. A ground ball hit to the second baseman when a runner is on first base should result in a double play. Failure to execute means an error.

But even though baseball treats this almost as a foregone conclusion, it only happens with regularity because highly skilled players practice this play frequently.

Successful trade policies are also grounded on individual fundamentals working smoothly. A good trade policy helps exporters enter new markets, but only if they have a great product, combined with access to financing and functioning logistics.

If any piece of that falls apart — such as if there is a port strike or if a shipping company suddenly goes bankrupt — then the most successful trade policy strikes out.

6. New talent is always coming onto the field.

But unless you are Willson Contreras, this talent can't expect to just pick up a bat and hit a home run on the first at-bat. Talent must be cultivated.

In baseball, talent is trained and brought up through an extensive farm system. But where is the farm system for a trade policy? How can we best identify talent and ensure that those skills make it to where they are needed most, and that these skills can be updated to meet the next competitive challenge?

A smart trade policy will start with the education of the next generation of workers, and then seek trade liberalization that can enable those workers to thrive.

7. It is difficult to quantify benefits.

The face of a child who first sees the green grass through an infield tunnel. The smell of popcorn. The whack of a bat. The seventh-inning stretch. The disappointment of another lost season. Or the thrill of a post-season victory.

These and many more make up the unquantifiable benefits that many of us feel when we go to a game. Trade policy also has a hard time quantifying benefits. Look around and you will see the many ways trade positively affects our lives — through more affordable products, a wider variety of services, cool technology and so on.

But because they are not easily linked to our trade policies, we take them for granted.

So it turns out there is a lot that trade policy can learn from baseball. But there's a caution.

When the World Series ends, baseball begins its long winter hibernation.

Let's hope that — especially given the nasty beating trade has received this election year — this is a path that international trade policy doesn't follow.

Lamar is executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and a frequent contributor on trade policy issues.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.