February 16th, 2009 | People's Daily Online Trade protectionism poisonous to settling financial crisis
U.S.$787 billion stimulus package approved Friday favoring American steel, iron and manufactured goods for government projects, or ‘Buy American provision’ in its official term, are actually protectionist measures that could trigger trade disputes. And it has been proved by history and tested by economic practice that when facing a global financial crisis, trade protectionism is not a solution, but a poison to the solution, steepening the downward spiral.
The stimulus bill, aiming to apply a defibrillator to the ailing U.S. economy and shock it back to life, has been considered a momentum and is now a major victory achieved thus far by the Obama administration, as it is struggling to lift the country from a financial nosedive unseen since the Great Depression of 1930s. Unfortunately, the package, since its birth, will have been shrouded in the mist of trade protectionism, by including the highly suspicious Buy American provision.
As originally written, requirements known as ‘Buy American’ would have mandated the use of U.S. products and materials in certain government-financed projects. President Barack Obama also vowed to boost consumer spending through moderate tax cuts, and support domestic job creation for the bill to progress through Congress and after strong criticism abroad. Meanwhile, U.S. labor groups that pushed hard for inclusion of the measures have argued that their main purpose is to ensure that U.S. Treasury dollars would be used to the fullest extent.
Even so, the stimulus bill still raised concerns over trade protectionism not only abroad but inside the U.S. as well. Some from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aired entirely different opinions believing that the Buy American provision would have done much more harm than good, as breaking the international promises the U.S. had made to defend free trade would have invited retaliation from the trading partners. ‘If we refused to buy foreign-made goods, then our trading partners would refuse to buy from us,’ an analyst of the U.S. Chamber said, ‘and since we are the world’s largest exporter, who would be hurt more?’
As far back as 1930s, when the Great Depression erupted, protectionist measures then taken caused trade wars, poisoning international trade. As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently said, ‘protectionism doesn’t protect anybody, much less the poor.’ It is believed that in the underdeveloped countries, trade protectionism could spell disasters for local economy and people; and even worse, the ongoing financial crisis in such backward economies could probably cascade sharply and evolve into a sweeping humanitarian crisis.
According to the World Bank, in the duration of 2008—2009, additional 200 million people or more have been plunged into poverty across the globe with the wide spread financial crisis. As the global crunch has yet to be bottomed out, in the upcoming years, the worsening economic conditions would still drive up the infants’ death rate in the poverty-stricken countries.
In a nutshell, confronted with the globe-sized economic slump, high priorities should be placed on the down-to-earth cooperation. All nations feeling the bite of economic slowdown need to join efforts in a bid to build up a more just and rational international trade order, which will prove to be the only effective way to prevent the Great Depression from reoccurring. And at this most critical juncture, it is very dangerous to drop the commitment to free trade and take on protectionism.