Unrestricted free trade exists only in textbooks. Even so, we must do all we can to pursue freer trade on fairer terms. For only through more open and more evenhanded trade can we hope to have a more prosperous economy.
We must be tougher than ever before with our commercial competitors, seeking lower barriers to trade, vigorously opposing dumping and other unfair trade practices, countering some governmental subsidies to obtain the leverage to end them and strictly enforcing U.S. trade laws.
But we must not indulge in an unnecessary proliferation of the import quotas, the orderly marketing agreements, the "voluntary" restraints, the "Buy American" laws and all the other protectionist devices that already pervade the American economy.
The automotive "domestic content" bill is a good example of bad legislation. It could raise new car prices as much as $1,000, cost three jobs for every one saved, reduce our agricultural and other exports by inviting retaliation overseas and distract us from the necessary task of strengthening our auto industry by addressing its fundamental problems through an entirely new working relationship among labor, management and government.
While sounding good, reciprocity legislation could prove equally bad. Multilateral reciprocity is needed. But requiring equal access bilaterally on a product-by-product basis could generate new domestic trade barriers and inspire retaliation against U.S. exports.
Many of our trade problems reflect deeper structural problems. Our larger challenge is one of adjustment to a sweeping international transition during economically troubled times. Misguided ventures into protectionism will only postpone that adjustment and hasten our continuing economic decline.