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Obama's protectionism hurts U.S. trade

David Frum

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: The Senate confirmed President Obama's nominee for trade representative today: Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk was approved 92-5. The president will need all the backing for his trade policies he can get his hands on because commentator David Frum says, so far, they don't get high marks.


DAVID FRUM: President Obama already has wars on his hands in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does he really need to start a trade war with Mexico, too? Monday, Mexico announced its intent to raise tariffs on 90 U.S. products. Mexico is retaliating for a protectionist measure tucked into the omnibus spending bill President Obama signed last week.

The measure shut down a pilot program to open U.S. highways to Mexican trucks. That program honors a commitment to Mexico under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. All Mexican trucks on U.S. highways must meet U.S. regulatory standards, so there are no legitimate safety issues: The truck ban is plain protectionism.

If Mexico litigates under NAFTA, it will surely win. But why litigate? We have immigration problems to solve together and energy resources to develop together. Above all, it is only by working together that we can hope to suppress the violent drug war that has taken 6,300 lives south of the border since last January. This violence increasingly reaches into American cities like Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix. Phoenix now ranks second among the world's cities for most kidnappings -- behind only first place Mexico City.

The chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, has detailed six lessons from the Great Depression. One of the six: Recovery must be global; protectionism can only prolong misery.

Yet already the Obama administration is showing signs of a dangerous protectionist bias. The president's top trade official, Ron Kirk, says he intends to focus more on enforcement, which many fear is code for protectionist actions.

Democrats compare today's economic crisis to the crash of 1929. President Obama's stimulus and other spending measures are advertised as solutions to avoid the mistakes that transformed the 1929 financial crisis into a global depression. But of course the biggest mistake of all in the 1930s was the raising of barriers to world trade. And that's the mistake the Obama administration is in most danger of repeating.

RYSSDAL: David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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