Keeping Our Eyes on the Ball of Economic Warfare

Posted: Jan 24, 2014 12:01 AM

On the foreign policy front, two stories have tended to dominate the news in recent months—terrorism and cyber warfare. With terrorist plots being foiled by our economic allies, and horrific cyberspace crimes being perpetrated by our economic competitors, it is easy to forget that there are very real battles taking place in the trade world, with the US again being the major target. In fact, a recent survey by Defense Leadership News underscores the importance that both Democrats and Republicans place on these twin threats.

Nobody disputes the importance of ensuring that US embassies remain safe, especially in light of the horrific (and as yet not-fully-accounted for) attacks on our embassy in Benghazi. And with news reports suggesting that two illegal immigrants (using Russian code) were part of the hacking of Target during the Christmas season, these issues are front-and-center in the eyes of the American people.

But what people are failing to take into account is the economic warfare being waged against the United States.

Like foreign policy, US trade policy extends from putting it strongest foot forward, and careful assessment of what its partners are doing. Free trade works when all parties are operating in an honest and transparent manner—free from unreasonable government interference. And like US foreign policy, there are actors who aren’t interested in a trade relationship with the US that benefits both nations in the exchange.

The US is at a severe disadvantage when it comes to trade, making us severely vulnerable to predatory policies. Other nations see the vulnerability that all US industries face: high regulatory and labor costs. And they exploit those vulnerabilities, heavily subsidizing the manufacture and production of their trade goods, which further undercuts US businesses.

We should be talking about regulatory reform and labor policy reform. Instead, our regulatory costs have never been higher, and may exceed $2.25 trillion next year! More problematic, instead of making a careful examination of our domestic labor policy, President Obama and Democrats across the nation are talking about raising the minimum wage!

What this means is that struggling US industries, like the sugar industry, are going to fall further and further behind—especially when its competitors in other nations are the beneficiaries of massive policies of corporate welfare, infusing them with unimaginable sums of cash.

So, if we are not going to reform our regulatory system. If we’re not going to talk about the labor burdens we put on American firms, then we have to make sure that our domestic industries don’t fall victim to the predatory practices of these other nations and their corporate cronies.

One of the ways we can do this is to ensure that we don’t economically disarm until these other nations stop their predatory behavior and give up on their crony capitalist ways. When it comes to sugar, Zero-for-Zero is the right policy. It underscores the importance of free trade—but it also recognizes the very real reality that we cannot condone international corporate welfare.

Foreign policy works when we assess threats, and create realistic policies that serve to address those threats. Trade policy works the same way. Zero-for-zero is an honest appraisal of the economic realities faced by US industries, and should be adopted. We have to keep our eyes on the ball.