Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

Anti-trade rhetoric in US presidential campaign a deep concern

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-10-31 11:28

It is surprising to see the strong protectionism sentiment propagated by the two presidential candidates in the United States, a country that has long touted itself as the champion of free trade. Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump may disagree sharply on many issues, but their protectionist and anti-trade rhetoric sounds quite similar.

Almost from the beginning of his electoral campaign, Trump has pledged to impose a 45-percent punitive tariff on Chinese imports, which is not only irrational, but also impossible, given the possible Chinese retaliation, the strong opposition from the powerful US business community and the serious violation of World Trade Organization rules. He has lately not mentioned the high tariffs but still blasts trade with China, Mexico and other nations.

Anti-trade rhetoric in US presidential campaign a deep concern

Clinton, meanwhile, has repeatedly accused Trump of outsourcing his products to 12 countries, as if everything Americans use must be made in the US. If outsourcing products globally is a crime, then Clinton is making a charge against tens of thousands of US companies. All the Fortune 500 companies, many of which have provided donations to the Clinton campaign, should be brought to justice because they are all in China and other countries.

What is even more ridiculous is that The Washington Post, which endorsed Clinton on Oct 13, has even bothered to run a fact check a week ago before confirming the allegation to be true. The newspaper's "investigative journalist" not only found the names of the 12 countries, but also exposed "a complete inventory" of Trump products made overseas, from Trump shirts made in China, Bangladesh, Honduras and Vietnam, and Trump home articles manufactured in Turkey, Germany, India and Slovenia to Trump Vodka made in a distillery in the Netherlands.

That reminded me of what I discovered in the official merchandise store of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July. While T-shirts and mugs had "Made in USA" labels, the labels of origin could not be found on golf balls, socks and caps. It made me wonder if they might have been taken off deliberately to avoid sparking a debate on political correctness.

In probably the worst anti-trade presidential race in the US in recent history, Clinton and Trump also share their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Clinton once touted the TPP as the gold standard but made a U-turn after launching her election campaign, in a bid to win over important union voters, especially after people like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called for a stop to the TPP.

A Pew Center survey in January this year showed that the favorable view of trade deals among Americans is down 8 percentage points since 2014. It's anybody's guess whether Clinton's about-face helped her win people's support, as most polls show her leading nationally about a week before the Nov 8 election. But it is likely to help put to death a legacy US President Barack Obama desperately wants - the TPP and the US rebalance to Asia strategy.

That is truly ironic given Obama has been actively campaigning for Clinton while leaving many important issues facing the 300 million American people unattended.

The anti-trade rhetoric by both presidential candidates has indeed shocked people in the US as well as the rest of the world. The Obama administration, however, doesn't have a good track record either. A Business Insider story last year quoted Credit Suisse and Global Trade Alert, a London-based independent academic and research think tank, as saying that the US has imposed more protectionist measures than any other country since the global financial crisis began in 2008.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde expressed deep concern recently over the anti-trade and protectionist rhetoric by the US presidential candidates.

Ironically, for the past more than three decades, that is, since China launched its reform and opening-up, the West, especially the US, had been lecturing Beijing on the merits of free trade. It appears now that China is championing globalization and free trade as many industrialized nations oppose it. The G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou in early September, too, made people realize the depth of China's belief in globalization.

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