Leadership on trade?

I have a sneaking hunch that my friend Rick Manning of Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and Donald Trump may not see eye to eye on what constitutes “limited” government should Trump be elected, but one thing ALG is encouraging Trump to pursue is a more America-centric policy on trade.

On Monday ALG released a letter they sent to Trump thanking him for “giving voice to the reality that the deals negotiated by our leaders are anything but free trade or good for America.”

Manning cited two examples of poor trade practice in his letter, with the first singling out the struggles one American shoe maker endures in competing with Nike:

The average Vietnamese worker makes $150 a month, virtual slave wages.  But the average Vietnamese textile worker who makes shoes earns even less, in fact, about 30 percent less down to $100 a month according to Vietnamonline.com. While this is good for Nike, which doesn’t actually make any of its hundred dollar plus tennis shoes here in America, it is bad for their competitor, New Balance, which employs 900 Americans in Massachusetts and Maine making footwear.

Let me step in for a minute (pun intended.) I happen to prefer New Balance shoes for a simple reason: it is far easier for me to find their shoes in the wide width I need because I wear 4E wide shoes for my duck feet. New Balance seems to have their finger on the pulse of the American market better than Nike, which outsources their production to the cheapest possible outposts. (It shows in their quality, too. I’ve been disappointed in the couple pairs of Nikes I’ve owned.) But Nike has a far bigger market share thanks to the power of marketing, if not necessarily the quality of their shoes.

Manning goes on to cite a second imbalance he’s hoping Trump may address:

Another egregious example of American policy being out of whack is the area of agricultural subsidies and trade.  A specific example is the much maligned U.S. sugar policy, which is in place to offset massive sugar subsidization by producers like Brazil, Thailand and India.  These countries’ subsidies and trade-distorting policies have wrecked the world sugar market and could drive the U.S. industry out of business.

Over the years Life Savers, Dum-Dums and other candy products have seen their production relocated to Canada or Mexico – not because of labor costs but the cost of sugar. Since the ingredient is the major proportion of the product, it only makes sense to find the cheapest alternative. Manning cites one proposal to address this:

However, there is a solution for someone with a hard-nosed desire to get the best deal for the American people and end agriculture subsidies.  U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) has introduced legislation that would end the U.S. sugar program when the U.S. gets other nations to do the same through the World Trade Organization.  Yoho’s approach, making the end of our sugar policy contingent upon our competitors eliminating their subsidies, too, gives the President a powerful tool to use as a cudgel over world-wide agricultural competitor’s heads, because Congress would have already done its work.

The ALG letter also goes on to talk about ending Chinese currency manipulation, which is a familiar complaint from manufacturing groups as well. But Manning is adamant about manufacturing’s place in the American economy. “Rebuilding a robust domestic manufacturing sector is important to restoring America’s economic leadership in the world, and in doing so, providing hope to our nation that tomorrow will once again be better than today,” concluded Manning. And he’s right.

But trade is only one part of the equation. We have to encourage more businesses to create jobs by not making it mandatory they give 35 cents of every dollar back in taxes. While Trump addressed this in his tax plan by cutting corporate rates to 15 percent, he has several provisos such as a “one-time deemed repatriation of corporate cash,” and ending deferral on corporate income earned abroad. Bear in mind as well Trump admitted that his tax plan as presented is his “optimal plan,” but subject to negotiation – so the rate may be higher, the “one-time” repatriation may become annual, and it may be tied to other non-productive policies such as a minimum wage hike. Regulations are another issue which Trump is vague about, telling CNBC he wanted to scrap “a slew” of them, but not being specific.

Trump, however, is also talking about our own currency manipulation, questioning the wisdom of a strong dollar. Having a weaker dollar would tend to be protectionist policy, making imports more expensive but allowing our products to be more competitive elsewhere. By the same token, it would encourage international visitors while making American trips abroad more expensive. But it also could enhance inflation.

If Trump wins the election, it’s truly anyone’s guess what effect he will have on the economy. He could be the boost we need to get back to 4-5% annual growth we haven’t seen since the Clinton-Gingrich tech boom era of the 1990s or he could make us long for actual growth instead of depression. It’s truly anyone’s guess, and one piece of the puzzle will be how the market reacts to Trump’s more protectionist policies.

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