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Businessweek Archives

Protectionism Still Haunts The Hill



The Trade Expansion Act of 1992, introduced by Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), is a mishmash of bills that have been sitting around Congress for a number of years. It's an attempt by the Democrats to codify their own trade platform just as President Bush's major trade initiative, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is nearing completion (page 26). It is almost certain to pass the House, but unless the Rostenkowski bill is substantially changed by the Senate, it deserves to die.

Laudably, it would streamline U.S. Customs procedures that everyone agrees badly need fixing. The bill would also put some teeth into efforts to force other countries to live up to their trade pacts with the U.S. The White House would be required to put more pressure on trading partners to open their markets to U.S. exports.

But the bill plays some preposterous election-year politics. It would try to force the Japanese into "voluntarily" limiting their automobile exports to the U.S. for seven years. And it would even count as exports the Japanese nameplate cars that are manufactured in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Just as the White House has a good idea in wanting to expand the U.S.-Canada free trade zone to Mexico, so have the Democrats in their market-opening initiatives. But throwing a protective shield around Detroit is crass protectionism at its worst.

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