We Need To Revise Our International Trade Policies

by U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin

Most of the ships leaving the Port of Baltimore leave empty. Five out of six of the ships that bring goods from China return empty. The sixth ship is increasingly likely to be carrying only raw materials like scrap metal.
Most Americans tune out news reports when it comes to US trade deficits. Unfortunately, too few people understand that our record $617 billion trade deficit for 2004 has a serious impact on American workers and businesses.

The Port of Baltimore illustrates what is happening across the nation. At the Port, we see thousands of automobiles from Asia being unloaded, waiting for U.S. consumers. But what we don’t see is that most of the ships leaving the Port leave empty. Currently, five out of six ships that bring goods from China return empty. The sixth ship is increasingly likely to be carrying only raw materials like scrap metal.

Consider these troubling facts: our trade deficit with Europe is more than $100 billion; ever since 2002, we have had a trade deficit in advanced technology products; and our trade surplus for farm products is likely to disappear this year.

Our massive trade deficits come at a steep price. Over the past four years, foreign debt has almost doubled, and the United States has accumulated more debt to foreigners during the past four years than it did during the first 220 years of our history. These trends are not sustainable.

It’s time that we stop allowing our trading partners to take advantage of us. We need to start using the tools at our disposal to ensure a level playing field. We also need a real commitment by the Bush Administration and Congress to pursue trade policies and priorities that will benefit American businesses and workers.

As the new Ranking Democrat on the Trade Subcommittee, I strongly favor expanded trade. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has fallen two years behind schedule in its World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.

We also need to be more aggressive in enforcing America’s trade laws. The Clinton Administration brought an average of 11 cases a year before the WTO; by contrast the Bush Administration brought only 12 cases during its first four years.

I have urged the Bush Administration to file 11 new cases before the WTO to address unfair trading practices that harm our nation. Included in this list are: the European Union’s subsidies for Airbus, China’s intellectual property rights violations and currency manipulation, and Japan’s non-tariff barriers to U.S. autos and auto parts.

I am confident that a stronger, more aggressive US trade policy can significantly reduce our trade deficits. There is much we can accomplish in 2005 if Congress and the Administration work together. It is time to start a new chapter in US trade policy--one that reflects the right priorities for U.S. workers and businesses.

Rep. Cardin (D-3rd, Md.) is the top Democrat on the Trade Subcommittee of the Ways & Means Committee.

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This story was published on May 27, 2005.