Now, I've discussed many times the White House's tragic, mercantilist obsession with exports and the US trade deficit, and the deleterious effects on the American trade debate of an "exports-good-imports-bad" approach to trade policy. And the USTR's 2010 trade agenda obviously continues that disturbing trend, so there's no need to rehash my previous arguments here. But I must admit that even I am amazed at the dramatic extent to which the Obama administration's report on American trade policy has completely ignored imports and the critical importance of unfettered access to foreign goods, services and investment for the US economy. It's as if the folks at USTR waved a magic mercantilist wand and made imports virtually disappear.
Just how far did they go? Well, consider these basic word-count statistics. In the 17-page agenda--
- The word "import" or "imports" is mentioned a total of 5 times;
- The word "export," "exports," "exporter" or "exporters" is mentioned 54 times;
- The word "consumer" or "consumers" is mentioned once (and only as "consumer protection" in reference to potential foreign market access barriers!)
- The word "balance" (or some form of it) is mentioned 11 times;
- The term "playing field" (as in one that is tilted against the United States and must be "leveled") is mentioned twice; and
- The term "market access" is used 12 times, but only twice with respect to imports (and both of those dealt with providing access to poor nations to help their development - never was it used to explain how such access benefits US businesses and consumers).
Indeed, based on my initial reading, the most promising statement in the entire 2010 US Trade Agenda about import benefits has to to with this rivetingly ambiguous statement about trade in environmental goods (p. 11):
The United States will back trade initiatives that will lower the cost and enhance the efficacy of our energy and environmental strategies. For example, we fully support fast-tracking action with willing partners in the WTO’s work on liberalizing trade in innovative, climate-friendly goods and services through tariff reductions that will stimulate their global markets. These technologies can make our societies more energy efficient and less dependent on imported fossil fuels. This is a good environmental policy with strong jobs potential through greater exports.Feel the excitement! (And you gotta give credit to USTR, they couldn't let that extremely vague reference to import benefits slide without concluding on an "increased exports" high note. Such diligence.)
So there you go, folks. The 2010 US Trade Agenda - the document establishing the annual trade agenda for one of the world's (alleged) "free trade champions" - has made imports magically disappear. Fortunately for American families and businesses, however, they're not really going anywhere.
(At least, I don't think so.)