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U.S. trade policies hurting our own citizens

If the situation weren’t so grim, it would be almost laughable, watching our political and business leaders explain and defend their practice of global trade. It’s as if they were all reading from the same play book.

“Certainly global trade is good for American workers,” they say. “Just look at all the jobs being created by the export of our products and services to other countries.”

(What they don’t say is that for the past 20 years, we imported much more than we exported — year after year, moving millions of living-wage American jobs to other countries.)

And, they rationalize: “The United States is moving from a manufacturing to a service economy, so some loss of jobs is inevitable. But don’t worry: We will use our network of community colleges to train the unemployed for the new jobs of the future.”

But when pressed, our leaders seem uncertain as to when those new jobs might materialize, and that is scary.

Right now, 19 million Americans are walking the streets looking for jobs; 6 million more have become discouraged and stopped looking; 8 million are working part time but want full-time jobs.

It didn’t have to be like this. It wasn’t preordained that we should go into 2010 with massive unemployment and a huge and chronic trade deficit, and crippled with a $12 trillion

During the 20 years following the end of World War II, the U.S. became the dominant economic power in the world. We were able to supply our own growing needs as well as help rebuild war-torn Germany and Japan.

By the late 1960s, however, as Germany and Japan began to return as global players and countries like South Korea and Taiwan emerged as economic forces, our leaders were s low to recognize the shift in global economic power taking place and slow to take the actions necessary to keep the U.S. competitive.

They began to treat the U.S. economy as if it were so strong and resilient that nothing could bring it down.

Japan was allowed to start importing automobiles into the U.S. in the early 1970s with very few initial restrictions and no apparent concern for the impact on American workers, even though Japan strictly limits the number of cars we sell in their country.

This wouldn’t have happened in China. They require every automobile company beginning operations there to form a 50/50 joint venture with a Chinese company.

During the 1980s, jobs were given away to achieve political goals. Tariffs were removed on low-cost textiles and clothing from Central American countries to gain their help in fighting Communism. Hundreds of thousands of American jobs were destroyed.

Our leaders took us into the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico in the 1990s with the promise of a growing trade surplus.

It didn’t work out; we have been left with a huge and continuing deficit and the loss of millions of American jobs.

And China has been allowed to capture more American jobs than any other country. Even though our trade deficit with them continues to balloon and they rebuff our efforts to get them to strengthen their currency and allow the prices of their products to rise, our leaders have been unwilling to put limits on their access to our markets.

So when will things get better? Not until our political and business leaders change the way they manage our relations with the rest of the world.

Tom Gibson is a retired marketing manager from the DuPont Co. Contact Tom at tcolemangibson@yahoo.com.