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Wrong on trade

Headed for a March 4 primary showdown, Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been angling for every possible competitive advantage. Thus, the skirmishing over bragging rights on opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and similar pacts.
Shots against free trade clearly resonate with many Americans these days. In a recent national poll, only 40 percent of respondents said free trade pacts have been a good thing for this country. That’s down from nearly 50 percent a decade ago.
In last week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll on the topic, nearly 25 percent of readers said they used to favor free trade but now oppose it.
Yet 60 percent of respondents in the RBJ poll gave free trade a thumb’s up. Perhaps the Democratic contenders should pay closer attention to them-or to Sen. Clinton’s husband, who as president was a strong supporter of free trade even though it angered many in his party.
Critics say free trade has led to the outsourcing of millions of jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector. Yet the hard data do not suggest anything like Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound of jobs being pulled out of this country.”
Under the NAFTA Transitional Adjustment Assistance program in effect from 1994 to 2002, an average of less than 60,000 workers a year were certified as eligible for help. During that same period, the U.S. economy generated nearly 15 million new jobs-or roughly 1.8 million a year.
It’s no surprise that support for free trade is stronger here than nationwide, given the size of the local international business community. Moreover, exports from Rochester to Mexico and Canada climbed sharply in NAFTA’s first decade and today account for more than 40 percent of all locally produced goods sold abroad.
The only way to produce lasting improvements in our standard of living is to remain competitive in the world economy. Maintaining artificial barriers to trade cannot achieve that.

02/29/08 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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