Trade Agreements Are Not the Root of All Evil

Congress, under the influence of rich multinational corporations, is on a path to decimate U.S. manufacturing through horrendous trade agreements.

That is the view of Brian Sullivan, director of sales, marketing & communications for the Tooling, Manufacturing & Technologies Association, a Michigan-based non-profit organization. And if you think I may be exaggerating, overstating Sullivan’s position, then read his words in a recent posting on an Industry Week forum:

The morally shameful ‘I-don’t-care-about-you-because-I’ve-got-mine’ mentality exhibited by Congress and this Administration is a national disgrace. Our representatives and legislators, collectively, have been responsible for trade policy that has resulted in a cave-in of the manufacturing industry. Where are these people who were elected by us to look out for our interests? Where are these people who were supposed to be our legislative champions?

They’re in Washington, alright. But a lot of the time they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing on our behalf. Instead of being at the Capitol, you know what they’re doing? They’re sitting in the donut shop. But they’re not eating donuts. They’re feeding on complacency. Our complacency.We let the people who we’ve elected sit in the donut shop of big business cronyism and collusion.

We let them sit in the donut shop of the sweet deal. We let them sit in the donut shop of personal self-interest at our expense. And we continue and continue and continue to re-elect them. And we never call them on it.

Strong words. But putting the rhetoric aside, what is that Sullivan and the TMTA want?

Members of our association… wonder if things will change in time. They know that most of their woes emanate from disastrous trade laws that have been written in Washington DC…

We need fair trade reform and we need it now. We need to force our elected officials to re-do trade policies. From the ground up. And the first thing that should happen is that there should be a freeze on all new trade agreements, especially by this current Administration, until major pro-domestic producer and worker trade strategies are put in place. It’s awfully clear that we’re not going to get any help from this White House and that’s a real shame.

Congress must create a National Trade Commission. Congress must pass currency manipulation legislation. Congress must address the unfair advantage caused by the rebate of VAT taxes by passing a border equalization tax. Congress has to enact countervailing duty laws. Congress has to pass laws that standardize Rules of Origin. They have to pass laws that address infrastructure imbalances including regulatory standards and enforcement standards.

That’s a long list of issues, and I’m sure that on some and perhaps most of them, the TMTA makes legitimate points. Duty laws, currency manipulation and the like can all create significant problems for manufacturers.

But I cannot accept Sullivan’s claim that “most of their woes emanate from disastrous trade laws.” Globalization would be taking place with or without government help, as well as the sharply increased competition that accompanies globalization. And globalization is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge.

What all manufacturers need to do is develop a lean mindset and pursue a lean strategy in order to become as competitive as possible. That can be achieved, and is being achieved – and not just by big companies. Being competitive in today’s world is also a possibility for the small and mid-sized companies that the TMTA says it represents.

Problems in the laws governing international trade should be addressed. But they should not be used as an excuse for all the problems and challenges facing manufacturers.

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