Do Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the one hand, speak with Commerce chief Don Evans and President Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, on the other? If so, they should have lunch.
Rumsfeld and Powell ought to explain to Evans and Rove how Bush’s reelection-driven trade policies too often jeopardize U.S. national security. To satisfy parochial domestic interests, Bush’s neo-protectionism creates headaches for American soldiers and diplomats abroad. This counterproductive shortsightedness cannot stop soon enough.
Consider America’s ongoing efforts to pacify North Korea. China, an at least nominally Communist country contiguous with Pyongyang, surely is Washington’s best bet to keep the unpredictable Kim Jong Il from going, literally, ballistic. Indeed, America, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea hope to meet with North Korea as soon as mid-December to encourage the Stalinist state to abandon its thermonuclear dreams. Given Kim’s habit of sharing strategic technology with Iran, Libya and Syria, few things are scarier than this dictator, with an atomic chip on his shoulder, furnishing glow-in-the-dark gifts to anti-American states and groups.
So, rather than keep China cool, calm, and cooperative, the White House on November 18 dropped a cup of wonton soup in Beijing’s lap. Washington’s fresh import quotas on Chinese brassieres and nightgowns suddenly created tensions between the two capitols. Three days later, a Chinese trade delegation canceled plans to visit the U.S. and sign orders for American agricultural goods.
This flap could not be more ill-timed. With Asia at the crossroads between peace and rearmament, President Bush chose to wrestle with the Chinese over intimate apparel.
Not far from China, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has shared airspace, intelligence, and military facilities with U.S. forces. Pakistan has captured some 500 al Qaeda members and cracked down on the Muslim-extremist madrassas that too often turn little boys into walking explosives. Yet despite Islamabad’s valiance in the war on terror, America still imposes tariffs of up to 16 percent on Pakistani textiles and quotas that also limit the supply of such items as pillowcases and dishrags manufactured there.
While such recklessness might secure the 23 electoral votes of the textile-rich Carolinas, Bush and Rove should consider the much higher vote tally possible if an especially-motivated Pakistan pointed U.S. special forces to the precise cave where Osama bin Laden sips his tea.
Conversely, the president and his Svengali should forecast the votes they might lose if a tariff-weary Pakistan snoozed while bin Laden successfully supervised, say, the dirty-bombing of Chicago’s Loop.
Meanwhile, America’s Canadian and Mexican frontiers remain vulnerable to the next Mohamed Atta. U.S. harbors also could receive hostile visitors or ships wired to detonate on entry. So guess where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is dedicating its scarce resources.
As Cato Institute trade-policy analyst Dan Ikenson explains, under a $9.5 million program, the U.S. Customs Service (now part of DHS) assigns agents to the Textile Production Verification Team (TPVT). They travel the world inspecting textile factories and corporate “books and records in order to verify the country of origin or the eligibility for a trade preference” for various garments. Imagine that a Chinese sweater maker ran into a filled U.S. import quota, then transported those goods to Hanoi, relabeled them as Vietnamese and shipped them to Seattle from there. The ever-vigilant TPVT would unravel that scheme.
Through last June, TPVT members visited plants in Botswana, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Swaziland. In 2002, those officials toured 553 factories in 12 countries, according to the Commerce Department’s October 2003 “Second Report to the Congressional Textile Caucus.” Read it on the website of the Office of Textile and Apparel. Don’t miss OTEXA’s logo: The planet Earth skewered by a threaded needle.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection reviewed Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) claims for knit apparel,” the study states, referring to a U.S.-African free-trade agreement, “when they discovered many Swaziland and Botswana manufacturers were using pre-knit collars and cuffs from outside the region for making AGOA claims.”
Here’s an idea: Terminate the TPVT program and reassign its personnel. TPVT’s $9.5 million budget generously could finance 95 inspectors at $100,000 each. Half could watch international airport arrival lounges for suspicious-looking aliens. The other half could use radiation-detection gear to examine inbound cargo freighters.
Finally, Andres Mejia sees cocaine and bombs as unintended consequences of U.S. trade barriers.
“Restrictions on access of agricultural goods to the United States, added to internal subsidies to U.S. farmers, have caused many small farmers in Colombia and similar countries to go bankrupt,” says Mejia, director of the free-market Development and Liberty Institute in Bogota and a participant in last month’s hemispheric trade talks in Miami. “In the case of Colombia, this promotes drug traffic and violence,” he says, seated beside Biscayne Bay.
Stymied by such things as U.S. orange juice tariffs and sugar price supports, Colombian farmers turn instead to coca, poppy, and heroin production. One need not be a DEA agent to see how this frustrates U.S. antidrug efforts.
Elsewhere, Mejia says, the barrier-propelled “impoverishment of certain rural, distant areas is fueling violence, too, since young kids with no other alternatives go to the guerrillas or the paramilitaries,” such as the FARC rebels, officially identified as terrorists by the State Department. FARC is believed responsible for bombs that killed at least 55 civilians this year alone.
“If we could export more fruits to the U.S.,” Mejia tells me, “that certainly would convince more people to stop growing coca and to stop joining violent groups.”
For now, Mejia consider the FARC guerrillas “declared enemies of the United States. They hate the United States. They hate Americans, and if they had the chance, I have no doubt they would attack the United States.”
Steering America from George W. Bush’s neo-protectionism back to the path of free trade would avoid these potentially deadly situations. The president’s steel-tariff retreat on Thursday is a big step in the right direction. The perpendicular tracks on which U.S. trade and security policy operate should be made parallel, lest a truly nasty train wreck lie around the bend.