Just when it seemed that control over the direction of U.S. trade policy was hopelessly and totally in the grips of congressional forces of darkness, there is a faint glimmer of hope that some Democrats might remember the days when they weren’t forced to consider trade a dirty word. Given where things stand today, that’s not a trivial matter.
In a letter (sorry, subscription required–see excerpt below) dated May 2, six members of the House Ways and Means Committee (five of whom are Democrats!) urged Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to abandon (or at least work to minimize the disruption to trade caused by) his Department’s Import Monitoring Program of Textile and Apparel Products from Vietnam. The novelty alone of a letter from Congress urging the administration to tread lightly where imports are concerned warrants this post.
As you may recall from a previous post, the Bush Administration felt it had to buy off opposition to the bill that granted Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to Vietnam. Prominent holdouts demanding compensation were Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and the price, ultimately, was a commitment from the administration to monitor imports and to self-initiate antidumping cases if the situation warranted. That commitment from the administration was unprecedented, unnecessary, and disappointing. Today it is reported to be scaring away investment in the Vietnamese industry and deterring trade between Vietnamese producers and U.S. customers. On trade policy, Democrats have earned most of their scorn by marching to the tune of labor unions, which would just as soon permanently separate U.S. customers from their foreign sources. But Democrats also count among their constituents importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, producers, truckers, warehouse operators, port employees, and consumers who suffer when supply chains get tangled and severed. The authors of the letter acknowledge:
Congressional passage of [PNTR] for Vietnam was intended to provide benefits for both United States businesses and consumers, as well as strengthen the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and provide opportunities for economic growth that would benefit the Vietnamese people. We are deeply concerned that the disruption in trade caused by the import monitoring program is cutting away at many of the benefits of granting PNTR status to Vietnam.
Well put, indeed! Hopefully, the congressional trade leadership was copied because its recently unveiled New Trade Policy for America reflects predominantly an antitrade perspective that has been allowed to fester and metastisize within the Democratic caucus.