Most of us buy cheap products made in places like China
and don’t give it a second thought. I usually don’t think about the purchases I make, but I should. I don’t think that we, as Americans should boycott Chinese made products completely. We should work toward ensuring that American manufacturers aren’t at an agreement imposed disadvantage to foreign manufacturers. We should also work toward ensuring that our security and general well-being aren’t threatened by thoughtless or one-sided free trade agreements. We need to strive for fair trade with the other nations of the world.
Wall Street Journal editors, CEOs, and the Clintons may be enamored with NAFTA and most preferred nation status for China, but they don’t necessarily represent the average citizen. The average citizen isn’t isolated from the negative unintended consequences that result from some “free trade” agreements. Isolated elites in both major political parties seem to be more interested in short term gains by corporations and keeping Mexico happy than preserving the interests of their constituents.
Congressman and presidential candidate, Duncan Hunter is concerned about the deterioration of America’s “arsenal of democracy.” It is becoming increasingly difficult to find domestic suppliers of components critical to our defense and security. If an overseas supplier decides to stop supplying a component based on its opinion of our involvement (or lack of involvement) in a conflict, we would be hard pressed to replace the source. It seems foolishly short-sighted to depend so heavily on foreign resources, especially when those resources supply items vital to our national security.
Security isn’t strictly a military issue. The unfortunate consequences of NAFTA may have security and safety impacts across the U.S. The atrocity that this and prior administrations call border security and the unwillingness to enforce immigration law is only a part of our trade or business friendly problems with our Southern neighbor. I can’t imagine anyone that honestly believes that Mexican trucks that are to be allowed free access to our roadways, will be held to the same safety and emissions standards as our own trucks. By the way, if anyone does believe it, please e-mail me at email@example.com to discuss your purchase of The Clark Bridge.
Standards aren’t the only potential problem with the Mexican trucking program that is currently in its pilot phase. Smuggling will be facilitated by this program! That is of course unless every single truck is completely unloaded and checked for hidden compartments at the border. I am also curious as to who is going to be responsible for ensuring these drivers can read the road signs and know our traffic laws? Who will guarantee that these drivers are insured and will not simply disappear in the event of an accident? I suggest that it is not a “free market principle” to drive down wages by hiring labor and truck drivers that don’t have to report their earnings and don’t have to adhere to the same cumbersome regulations as American labor and truckers.
There is a presidential theme in this column since at least one candidate, Congressman Duncan Hunter, will secure our Southern border and will seek fair trade overseas. Instead of graciously accepting China’s most preferred nation status and the further degradation of American manufacturing and security, Duncan Hunter would insist on leveling the field. China currently enjoys unfair advantages over American manufacturers, including currency manipulation (artificially low prices), less restrictive environmental regulations, and the use of near slave labor.
Congressman Hunter envisions a “mirror trade” which involves a concept so often absent in modern politics and policy. The concept that used to be known as common sense is prevalent in “mirror trade.” Tariffs imposed by one nation on American products will be exactly reflected on their exports to America. Imagine a common sense policy that doesn’t punish American manufacturers for following the rules. Imagine a common sense policy that doesn’t displace American workers for artificially cheaper workers from a foreign country. Imagine doing what is right for our country, not just our corporate executives. We don’t have to imagine all this, we can vote for Duncan Hunter!
One can hear candidates spew and sputter over whether they endorse proposed free trade agreements, and if elected what they would do with the current ones in place. Now, with Bush in trade talks with Peru and Democratic presidential candidates blasting NAFTA free trade is on the media's radar once again. The notion of trade seems to be cyclical in the media.
Yet, trade among the United States and other nations happens every day and its effects are wide ranging. Of course there are benefits to the American people such as lower cost consumer goods in the areas of clothing and electronics. Factory jobs are available to workers in developing nations where there used to be only agricultural based opportunities. This new industrial based economy helps to bring higher wages and a better standard of living to these workers.
However, this free trade also brings a new set of problems to American workers and global citizens. First and foremost, American workers are not offered job safety. It was well publicized with NAFTA and continues to be a grave concern today, that as manufacturers find cheap labor in developing countries, they will move their factories to these nations. It has even been reported that some manufacturers have found workers in Mexico demanding too high of wages, so the factories have been moving to Southeast Asia where wages have been the cheapest. This leaves the American industrial worker in the lurch. As factories close, cities and towns lose their livelihood, and that wreaks havoc on the American economy.
What message does this send about how we as a nation value our workers? Many industrial workers live in a state of fear that their jobs will be sent overseas to a group of workers that can afford to work for dollars (or less) a day for twelve or more hours a day, with no workplace protections, let alone the representation of a labor union. Men and women who have spent the majority of their lives working lives toiling in factories are now left jobless due to greed. Should businesspeople be competitive in today's economy? Of course. Should they do it at the expense of their workers who have given them years of service and who deserve fair wages, hours, and health care? Absolutely not.
Another concern of trade agreements is the lack of environmental standards other countries have in their laws. As more and more factories pop up in developing nations, there will be more environmental hazards that are causes for concern. In these developing nation there are less environmental (or even no) laws concerning pollution, etc. in place. In the United States there are regulations with a set of punishments, including fines, that corporations must follow. Yet, these international corporations must not follow any anti-pollution laws if there are none in place. This is a major cause for concern because damage to the environment in one area of the world can cause adverse effects globally.
Isolationism has never been the proper course of action. This is a global society. However, while workers in other nations may be procuring better jobs with new factory work, their hours are long, their wages are low, and they have few, if any, rights in the workplace. Workers at home have lost jobs and many are in fear of losing jobs. There are no environmental standards written into these free trade agreements. Job safety for the American worker, tightening of environmental standards, and improvement of working conditions are three key elements to the improvement of free trade agreements. Until those three elements are accomplished, free trade agreements are not really "free." They are harmful to all of us in the global community.
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