A closer look at the debate over U.S. trade with China: What has been the result of permanent trade relations and China's entry into the World Trade Organization, how much does the trade deficit matter, do the Chinese have unfair advantages and what's the outlook going forward?
"You won't find it in your Fodor's Travel Guide, or in a copy of Lonely Planet, but if you're interested in what globalization is all about these days," head straight to to the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, advises Rick Young, the producer/director of "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?". Here, he explains how tangible evidence of the U.S.-China trade deficit -- which will likely reach $150 billion in 2004 -- arrives each day from across the Pacific.
Brink Lindsey is the vice president for research at the Cato Institute. From 1998 to 2004, he was director of the Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies. Here he explains why he doesn't think Americans should overreact to the trade deficit with China. He says that while some U.S. businesses may have had exaggerated expectations about the potential for doing business in China's markets, Chinese imports of U.S. products have been growing "very fast." "We tend to focus on the cost, that imports are clearly a challenge to U.S. businesses that compete against those imports," Lindsey argues, "but we can't forget that those imports didn't just wash up here on American shores unbidden. They came here because people wanted to buy them."
A fellow at the United States Business and Industry Council, Tonelson is the author of The Race to the Bottom: Why a Global Worker Surplus and Uncontrolled Free Trade are Sinking American Living Standards. In this interview, he explains how recent international trade agreements -- particularly with China -- have sent many American manufacturing jobs offshore and created a massive trade imbalance that threatens the future of the American economy. "The problem is that U.S. trade policy writ large has encouraged large and politically powerful multinational companies to supply the U.S. market from China," he argues. "It gives these firms the ability to charge U.S. prices for goods … but to pay Chinese wages." Tonelson warns that unless the government reigns in these trade imbalances, a growing U.S. debt will mean that Americans will no longer be able to afford goods from overseas. "… [U]ltimately American consumers have to earn U.S. wages to pay U.S. prices," he says.
Hopson is the president and CEO of Five Rivers Electronics Innovations, which assembles televisions for companies like Philips, Samsung and RCA, and whose factory is located in Greenville, Tenn. In this interview, he describes how television-manufacturing jobs have moved offshore over the last few decades and explains how China's entry into the television market caused drastic changes. Hopson says the number of imported Chinese televisions on the U.S. market increased 1,100 percent between 2000 and 2003. He filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission charging the Chinese with dumping televisions in the U.S. market for prices below free-market value and won his case in May 2004. Hopson tells FRONTLINE, "There's no doubt in my mind that if [we] had lost this case, this factory would not be in business."
This August 2003 analysis from Nicholas R. Lardy at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland argues that "not only does China's untapped market present huge opportunities for U.S. businesses that would surely outweigh any loss of jobs, but the sort of jobs that would move to China left the U.S. a long time ago." [Note: This is a pdf file; Adobe Acrobat is required.]
In this November 2003 article, originally published in the International Herald Tribune, Gene Sperling outlines the areas of concern in U.S.-China economic relations, including the trade deficit, China's undervalued currency, and other short-term pressures. But, he warns, "Succumbing to the short-term temptation of protectionism is a bad idea for everyone."
"When will this hemorrhaging debtor nation be compelled to pull back from profligate consumption and resign its role as 'buyer of last resort' for the global economy? The smart money assumes such a momentous reckoning probably won't occur in time to disrupt Bush's re-election campaign, but it may well become the dominating crisis in the next presidential term, whoever is elected." (The Nation, April 22, 2004)
Harold Meyerson reports on a petition filed by the AFL-CIO -- "the kind of unfair-trade petition that corporations commonly file, alleging that China's repression of workers' rights has displaced at minimum 727,000 U.S. jobs, and calling on the president to threaten China with tariffs until it stops artificially lowering its workers' wages." (The American Prospect, March 22, 2004)