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Archive for August 25th, 2018

There’s a debate in Washington about what President Trump really thinks about trade. Is he a crude protectionist or closet free trader?

If we focus on actions rather than rhetoric, I fear Trump is in the anti-trade camp. That is certainly the case if we look at how the Administration wants to alter the North American Free Trade Agreement. I was interviewed yesterday and here’s what I said about Trump and NAFTA.

By the way, even though I’ve previously defended NAFTA, I would like to see changes to the deal. The pact, which drags on for 1700 pages, isn’t genuine free trade.

An ideal agreement would contain just one sentence: “Mexicans and Canadians are free to buy goods and services from Americans, and Americans are free to buy goods and services from Mexicans and Canadians.”

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration wants to modify NAFTA in the other direction.

Clark Packard of the R Street Institute discusses this problem in a column for National Review.

…the administration should resolve NAFTA quickly. But a toxic mix of political miscalculations and bad policy is threatening to push that goal out of reach. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wants to remove the investor–state dispute-settlement process (ISDS) from NAFTA 2.0. ISDS provides neutral arbitration to settle disputes between private investors and governmental parties to NAFTA. For example, if the Mexican government expropriated an oil field owned by an American firm, ISDS would permit the American firm to seek compensation from the Mexican government in an arbitration process rather than seek redress in a Mexican court. …removing the process from NAFTA 2.0 would be a political miscalculation. …Another troublesome demand the United States is making in NAFTA negotiations is the inclusion of a so-called sunset clause that would terminate the agreement after five years unless all three countries affirmatively renew it. This is an unpopular idea on Capitol Hill and is a non-starter for Mexico and Canada, with good reason. Investment thrives in predictable environments. …the United States suggested lowering the regional-content threshold to 70 percent and requiring that 40 to 45 percent of an automobile must be produced by autoworkers making at least $16 per hour. …If manufacturers complied with this proposed requirement, their costs would skyrocket and consumers would face higher prices at the dealership. …manufacturers would forgo duty-free trading under NAFTA by sourcing parts from non-NAFTA countries and paying wages below $16 an hour, and then simply paying the small U.S. tariff on automobiles.

And here’s a good explanation, from Gary Clyde Hufbauer, of why NAFTA is a big plus for the American economy.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has benefited American consumers, workers and businesses since 1994. …Some 14 million US jobs depend on the agreement with our nation’s two largest export markets, Canada and Mexico. Together, these countries spend nearly $500 billion purchasing US exports annually. …The Peterson Institute’s research shows that overseas investment is an engine for American job creation. For example, case studies in Mexico show a win-win relationship from establishing research and development facilities outside the United States: Every 131 jobs added in Mexico lead to 333 jobs created here at home. …NAFTA has fostered robust growth in agricultural exports over the past 24 years.

The bottom line, as I’ve explained many times, is that Trump will be undermining the benefits of the good things he’s accomplished – such as last year’s tax plan – if he insists on imposing higher taxes on trade. Protectionism isn’t just bad for taxpayers, exporters, consumers, and manufacturers. It’s also a net job destroyer.

The process of NAFTA began under Reagan, negotiations finished under the first President Bush (one of the few good things he did), and the pact was approved under Clinton (one of the many good things that happened during his tenure).

Let’s hope it’s not wrecked under Trump.

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