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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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David Frum and the relentless offshore and international levelers believe that the only way into the future is to reduce America's standard of living to that of Columbia, Mexico, or Haiti. That's where we are heading with globalization. To the levelers, no American deserves a job. All jobs should be immediately sent to low cost countries.

Actual Americans, of course, like to eat, sometimes more than once a day. We need to keep the incomes and rights of Americans in mind, not just those of the obviously more deserving Mexicans.

1) It's not the safety of the trucks I'm concerned about -- it's the abilities of the drivers. I certainly noticed that the discourtesy and lawlessness of truck drivers increased shortly after the "pilot program" went into effect a few years ago. Never mind protecting American truck drivers, worry about protecting the lives of the rest of the motorists on the highways. Remember, these guys have a hard time with simple English -- like Speed Limit 60. 2) I keep hearing that we precipitated The Great Depression by protectionist legislation. I have yet to hear the mmechanism detailed. The real end to the Depression was WWII; there wasn't much international trade during WWII, was there? 3) Yankee traders lose about 15 cents on each dollar of "trade". What's the advantage in that? Certain countries kvetch about the U.S. federal debt. Maybe a 25% import tariff on all imports except raw materials would help fix the deficit. Would the kvetchers like that?

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