Earlier this month, the United States filed a broad trade case at the World Trade Organization against China for unfairly subsidizing its exports of cars and auto parts. Both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney have hailed such aggressive trade actions.
President Obama, who is up for reelection in November, said in Ohio last week that a previous trade suit against China had stopped the import of cheap tires and made sure “that a thousand jobs right here in the United States were maintained.”
Under his administration, 73 percent of American trade cases have been filed against China even if it accounts for only 14 percent of the country’s total trade. Over the past four years, the United States have brought eleven cases to the WTO, compared to twelve during the first four years of the George W. Bush Administration. (The president’s claim that his government has “filed twice as many cases as the previous administration” is not true.)
“We committed to doubling our nation’s exports,” the president also said, referring to a promise he made in his 2010 State of the Union address, “so we’re not just sending jobs overseas, we should be sending products overseas, keeping those jobs right here in the United States of America.”
But Chinese trade supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in America. The conservative Heritage Foundation found that Chinese imports in apparel and toys alone sustained up to 576,000 American jobs in 2010.
These jobs are in fields such as transportation, wholesale, retail, construction and finance and in myriad other activities that are involved in turning a manufactured product into a good that is ready for use by the average American.
The Wall Street Journal similarly reported that more than half of the value of Chinese imports directly benefits the American economy.
55 cents of every $1 dollar spent on a product with a “Made in China” label actually goes to Americans who design the products; manufacture components that are shipped to China for final assembly; transport the goods; market and retail them; finance their production and trade, and so on.
Facts don’t seem to deter either the president or his Republican opponent from suggesting that “unfair” Chinese commercial practices are in part to blame for the lackluster recovery at home, however. Mitt Romney has repeatedly criticized what he describes as the Democrat’s “trade surrender” and promises to “crack down on cheaters like China” where Obama supposedly won’t.
Politico reported earlier this month that such rhetoric “may play well in the Rust Belt, where automobile and other manufacturers are especially vulnerable to China’s trade policies and there’s wariness of Obama’s less confrontational approach” but few Republicans and big business donors believe that he will follow through if elected. “And if he did, many analysts say, he’d likely spark a disastrous and counterproductive trade war that would hurt both American consumers and the workers he says he’s trying to protect.” The same is true for the president if he continues this policy.