March 24, 2010

I Shot The Tariff

By Brady Bonk

I relish in reminding people that on Oct. 23, 2008, Alan Greenspan, who had to admit the following to a Congressional committee:

Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.

Now comes a similarly mind-blowing admission: Bill Clinton has, to an extent, admitted that countries may find it necessary to protect their own markets.

Decades of inexpensive imports — especially rice from the United States — punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves.

While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.

They’re led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton — now U.N. special envoy to Haiti — who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti’s rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. “I had to live every day with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”

President Obama and the U.S. Senate is stepping up a little on this issue, squinting and furrowing a brow at China, which is good. But there’s more comprehensive work to be done regarding trade. As it stands today, American trade policy is insane; so-called “free trade” has done nothing but export our most basic cherished industries, industries that not only produced manufactured goods but that also once fortified the backbone of the national infrastructure.

Were that Mr. Clinton could only make the leap and apply his apology to the broader picture.

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