A lot has happened in the trade field lately. In 1985, the total volume of U.S. trade in goods and services amounted to $820 billion. International trade flows accounted for 18 percent of our total economic activity. At the same time, our trade deficit continues to grow, and may reach $170 billion in 1986. Concurrently, we have become a debtor nation, and given current trends, soon will owe more to foreign creditors than do all the other nations of the world combined.
With election day approaching, many members of Congress have chosen to focus on the trade issue. Today, much more legislative time is devoted to trade than in the past. Only 10 years ago trade measures comprised 2.6 percent of all legislative activity. Five years later, the volume had increased to 6 percent. By 1985, it had surpassed the 10 percent mark. Moreover, trade issues are getting high visibility and often bipartisan support. Speeches and votes on issues such as textiles, sanctions or trade in general - along with increased television coverage - have provided congressmen with many opportunities to profile themselves.Trade also has become an increasingly popular campaign issue. A candidate's stance on trade will be praised or attacked in closely contested races. Trade slogans, charges and counter charges are rampant in choice. Due to the ambiguities and complexities of many of the issues, some suggested questions for the perplexed citizen are offered here. If nothing else, perhaps they will help provide for more spirited campaigns.
Candidate: All we have to do is close our borders to those cheap imports
from developing countries. Then we'll again have a good economy!
Befuddled Voter: Don't many of these countries owe us lots of money? If they don't earn enough to repay their debts, what will that do to my savings and my bank? How will that affect me? Won't some of these countries retaliate by closing their borders to our exports? What will that do to our existing jobs?
C: We would be much better off if all those imports would be stopped. We can produce all these goods right here in the United States!
BV: Won't that mean that some products no longer will be available? How many video-recorder plants do we have in the United States? If imports can be produced domestically, why haven't we done so before? What will all that do to the cost of my sweater, my shoes and my car? Who will pay for that? If I then have to spend more on these products, won't that mean that I'll have less to spend on others? Don't imports create jobs as well? Someone has to distribute and sell them.
C: I will work to reduce the trade deficit!
BV: Why is the trade deficit so important? Isn't the trade deficit a symptom rather than a problem? Doesn't a targeting of the trade deficit result in a short-term fixing of a number rather than the long-term addressing of the issue of international competitiveness? And, by the way, will we reduce the trade deficit as we did with the budget deficit?
C: I will help do away with unfair trade practices! I stand for fair trade!
BV: How much would that improve our trade position? Are all these foreign trade practices really unfair or are we only calling them that? It sure is a good thing that we don't have any such unfair practices, or do we?
C: We need to increase the foreign market access for U.S. products!
BV: What new programs do we have in the area of export promotion and how do they compare with those of other countries? Rather than getting market access for our products shouldn't it be our firms that need to learn how to enter foreign markets?
C: We have to make sure that foreigners buy more U.S. products!
BV: Can we really force other people to buy our products. Wouldn't they have done so if they wanted them? Does this mean that I can unload my supply of Rubik's cubes?
C: U.S. firms need to make up and reassert their economic pre-eminence!
BV: What makes our economic pre-eminence cast in concrete? What programs do we have that will restore our advantages.
C: Let's not talk about trade. There are so many pressing local issues that are more important!
BV: You are probably right! Any activity that affects one in every four U.S. farm acres, one in every nine manufacturing jobs, one in every $7 of sales and one in every $4 of bonds and notes is not really that important to discuss.
Perhaps the candidates will be delighted to answer these questions. It certainly would permit them to demonstrate how concerned they are, and how deeply they have studied the issues. The answers would be of great help to voters in ensuring that they get what they deserve.