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A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

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A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

A rising tide lifts all boats."

This is a line often used to describe a situation that's beneficial to everyone involved. When considering public policy, I've always believed that free and open markets are "rising tides" that lift all boats. For example, here in the United States, our free and open economy lifts all of us - consumers and businesses alike - to earn, spend, and work freely, without the obstacles of overbearing government intervention.

The same holds true among free-trading nations as well. We are in the midst of a rapidly-expanding global economy, and for the United States to remain competitive, we must have a prominent seat at the "free trade table." If we relinquish that seat, scores of American industries dependent on marketing their products to the international community - including manufacturers and farmers - will suffer. So, for the United States and our many trade partners, free and open international markets truly are rising tides that lift all boats. Of course, such a rising tide does no good if there are some boats purposely kept ashore. Let me explain.

In August 2002, President Bush signed legislation approved by Congress to grant him "Trade Promotion Authority," or TPA. TPA allows the President to negotiate free trade agreements, confer with Congress on the ongoing negotiations, and then present Congress with a trade agreement for an up-or-down vote. To date, two TPA agreements have been approved by Congress, and several more currently are being negotiated - with Australia and multiple nations in the Central American region, for example. Giving the President TPA confirmed that Congress and the President himself embraced "rising tides." However, recent developments in one trade agreement negotiation specifically - with Australia - suggests otherwise.

U.S. trade negotiators recently informed the Australian government that a major American agriculture product - sugar - has been taken "off the table" for the remainder of the American-Australian free trade talks. That means the U.S. sugar market is closed, making any free trade agreement that may be worked out between the two nations not quite so "free" after all.

This stringent demand is deeply disturbing because it will have major negative implications on the fate of the U.S.-Australia free trade negotiations. In fact, it may derail the talks altogether. That's because if one product is given an exemption and taken off the table in a free trade negotiation, other industries may step forward to demand their own exemptions as well. Currently, the dairy industry is demanding just that in the U.S.-Australia talks. And you can be sure that other industries are lining up to make their demands as well. This domino effect transforms a "free trade agreement" from a sound policy to meaningless words on a page. And we all lose.

Now more than ever, with economic growth and job creation here at home such a major priority, this sudden turn for the worse in U.S. trade policy is simply ill-timed. Pushing our allies and trading partners away from the free trade table sacrifices many more industries than just sugar - and far more sectors than just agriculture. Consider the manufacturing companies here in the Buckeye State. Trade talks open doors for them to sell their products to markets around the world - markets that would play a crucial role in getting manufacturers back on their feet. If these talks break down, those doors slam shut.

Returning to the "rising tide" theme, sugar - with the help of its notoriously powerful Washington, D.C. special interest brokers - is currently a boat being kept out of the water. Other "boats" are bound to be pulled ashore as well when more industries request trade exemptions of their own. This practice will sink more than one or two trade agreements, as it seems to be doing now with Australia. In time, it may sink our international trade credibility right along with our farmers, manufacturers, and others who depend on it. The world is watching. Let's hope our own trade negotiators are too.

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