- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The politics of trade are changing course. Trade theory promoted by corporate lobbyists has historically driven major trade votes in Congress. I know. As a free-trader, I've voted for them. But I and many of my colleagues cannot continue to vote for free trade based principally on theory. Too many times we have voted for trade only to learn that corporations moved more of their operations or sourcing out of our districts and offshore, leaving behind hard-working Americans with families to feed and no jobs. Those people back in our districts sent us to Congress to represent their interests.

The trade-promotion authority law may have been the last major trade vote to pass on theory. Large corporations must rethink their political strategy on trade, or face big setbacks in Congress. Let me suggest a winning strategy that starts with small business.

Over the last 10 years, our small businesses have created 75 percent of all our net new jobs; developed more than half of our new technologies and innovations; employed more than half of our private workforce; and generated more than half of our private GDP. Our 25 million small businesses form the political base of every congressional district. And they're struggling.

In just the past two years, the United States has lost 1.6 million manufacturing jobs. Between 1998 and 2001, machine tool orders plummeted annually from $5.2 billion to just $2.6 billion, and continued sliding through the first half of 2002 with just $1.1 billion.

The entire manufacturing base of my district (which led the nation in unemployment in 1981 and has among the highest unemployment rates today) is struggling to survive in the face of business relocation and sourcing overseas. As just one example, one family-owned business was forced to lay off 280 employees nearly half its workforce when several key customers relocated to China and began sourcing there. All members of Congress have similarly situated constituents.

What big business needs to do is to start giving us more good news about trade.

During the debate over permanent normal-trade relations for China, large corporations told us how specific small businesses in our congressional districts would benefit from enhanced trade with China. We also know that imports are not all bad: they provide a check on inflation; help the United States maintain and improve its competitiveness; support approximately 10 million good-paying U.S. jobs; and encourage foreign investment in the United States that employs more than 6 million Americans.

But we need something else. And this message is from my heart. We need to know that you care about our vulnerable small manufacturers by sourcing more work from them. And they your fellow Americans need to know it.

America's jobs first is simply this: Corporations instruct procurement officers and purchasing agents to look for competitive American suppliers and invite their bids. Those corporations should be prepared to possibly pay a little more for higher-quality American-made products, and to explain to us and the public how trade saved a U.S. factory, or created new jobs at a U.S. plant.

It may not increase corporate costs at all businesses could redirect some of the $1.5 billion in reported annual lobbying expenditures, and part of the corporate advertising budget, to assess and advertise U.S. opportunities in their global supply chains.

Businesses don't have to ignore the laws of economics overseas operations need trade-friendly U.S. policies to expand markets and keep them open and safe. This is bottom line. When a distrusting U.S. public stops investing and demands greater business penalties and regulation, this is bottom line.

Look at anxieties from September 11, the ongoing war on terror, a sputtering economy and now the threat of a "double-dip recession." Add the steady movement of U.S. corporate operations and sourcing offshore, leaving many American workers behind. Throw in a burst of corporate accounting scandals and the specter of re-incorporations offshore to avoid U.S. taxes, leaving ordinary American taxpayers and investors behind. No wonder the American public and its prosecutors, regulators, legislators and juries are in a hanging mood.

To buy or source American to put America's jobs first is ultimately, perhaps ironically, completely pro-free trade. There is nothing more satisfying for members of Congress than to see their small businesses benefitting substantially from trade. Trade theory isn't working. What will work is America's jobs first. It's good politics. It's good business. It's an official part of President Bush's national export strategy. And it will go a long way toward restoring a strong free-trade orientation to Congress, and public and investor trust in corporate America.


Rep. Donald A. Manzullo represents the 16th District of Illinois and chairs the House Committee on Small Business.


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