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Op-Ed: Another Bad Trade Deal Squarely Aimed at American Truck Industry

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Another bad trade deal squarely aimed at American truck industry

It is no great secret in Washington, D.C., that name-calling is a good way to deflect attention from yourself and onto someone else. The American International Automobile Dealers Association, a U.S.-based organization representing international nameplate auto dealers, has called me a "protectionist" because of my efforts to maintain the current U.S. tariff on imported pickups and light trucks. If standing up for American workers is being a "protectionist," then I plead guilty as charged!

The AIADA is a strong supporter of President George W. Bush's proposed U.S.-Thailand Free Trade Agreement. Their main focus has been the elimination of the current 25 percent tariff the U.S. imposes on imported pickups and light trucks. Eliminating the tariff would make foreign trucks cheaper and easier to sell here in the United States.

Thailand, with its lower labor and environmental standards, is anticipating elimination of the tariff and has successfully attracted light truck producers from Japan, South Korea and India. Thailand, which already currently produces more than 1 million light trucks a year, is telling these Asian truck producers that the proposed U.S.-Thailand FTA will eliminate the U.S. truck tariff, making Thailand a wide-open back door into the U.S. truck market. Once again, that may be good for Thailand, but is it good for U.S. truck makers and the more than 100,000 American workers whose jobs depend on a healthy domestic truck industry?

Last Congress, I authored a resolution supported by 207 Members of the U.S. House, expressing our deep concerns over the negative impact of the proposed FTA with Thailand. This year, I will introduce a new congressional resolution, which I hope will have even broader support among my congressional colleagues. I want to send a strong signal to the White House that Congress will not support the elimination of the U.S. tariff on imported light trucks.

The proposed U.S.-Thailand Free Trade Agreement is a symptom of a much greater problem I have with our nation's current trade policies. For 2005, America posted yet another record-breaking trade deficit; we imported more than $725 billion more than we exported. Our industrial base is in crisis. The U.S. has lost 2.8 million manufacturing jobs in the past five years, and nearly 200,000 of those have been in Michigan.

We are threatened with a permanent downsizing of the industrial economy in this country. And yet the White House's only response is to negotiate and approve more and more "free trade" agreements. Last Congress, the White House sent up for congressional approval FTAs with Australia, Bahrain, Morocco and Central American nations. And more nations are currently lining up demanding new free trade agreements with the United States.

Trade agreements no longer pass on their own merits; they now squeak by Congress by the slimmest of margins, largely due to unrelated side-deals and arm-twisting. Meanwhile, one bedrock industry after another is outsourced to another country. A bill I introduced would prohibit the White House from negotiating any new FTAs for two years. We need a "time out" on new harmful trade deals.

The difference between trade theory and trade reality is overwhelming, but the labels used by those who defend these flawed policies remain the same. Not long after AIADA accused me of being a "protectionist" for standing up for American jobs, President Bush gave his annual State of the Union address before Congress. In defense of a trade policy filled with corporate influence and lacking the voice of American workers, Bush referred to those who oppose his view of trade as "protectionists." From where I was sitting, it all sounded too familiar.

U.S. Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Flint, represents the Flint, Saginaw and Bay City areas in the U.S. House.

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