- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Howard Dean is effectively talking himself out of any chance of even a mediocre performance come Election Day.

The Democratic presidential front-runner has made some reckless statements over the course of his campaign. The most notable, of course, implied Iraqis were no better off with Saddam Hussein out of power. Tell that to those who lost children, spouses and friends, tortured and executed by Saddam’s terrorist regime and dumped into mass graves.

Last week, Mr. Dean said it was not Washington’s place to “take sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His stance is a complete break with America’s longstanding support for Israel against the Palestinian terrorists determined to drive the Israelis from their homeland.

But one of his most potentially devastating comments came earlier this month. The former Vermont governor said that, as president, he would end U.S. trade agreements with any country that does not follow the same strict labor and environmental standards we do here.

Such a policy would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States, whose economic health depends heavily upon exports to the world’s major industrialized and emerging economies — many of whom are still developing standards, let alone managing to match ours.

Most trade experts agree that less affluent countries could not afford to implement our stricter and costlier standards. Thus trade deals throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim, South America, the Caribbean and Africa would be canceled. Factories would have to be closed. Layoffs would mount. The cost of all this to the United States? More than $1.2 trillion in exports and imports and the elimination of close to 8.2 million jobs each year (every $1 billion in exports creates 19,000 U.S. jobs).

In last week’s Democratic presidential debate in Albuquerque, N.M., Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut bravely condemned Mr. Dean’s position on trade, saying it would lead to a “Dean depression.”

In a follow-up statement, the Lieberman campaign said that while he “strongly supports appropriate and realistic labor and environmental standards in free trade agreements,” the senator understands that forcing the “developing — and even some portions of the developed world — to embrace U.S. standards would cause America to cease trading with most of the world, which would be devastating to our economy.”

Challenged by Mr. Lieberman to defend his position, Mr. Dean attempted to backtrack, denying he had called for trade only with countries that agreed to adopt U.S. standards.

“We do have to have trade relations which rely on equality of labor standards throughout the world,” Mr. Dean said in last Thursday’s debate. “It doesn’t have to be American labor standards. It could be International Labor Organization.”

But that’s not what he said on Aug. 24 in an editorial board meeting with The Washington Post. The Post quoted Mr. Dean saying he would only trade with countries that adopted ” ‘the same labor laws and labor standards and environmental standards’ as the United States.”

Chris Suellentrop, a writer for the media Web site Slate, also says Mr. Dean backtracked on his own words: “Dean counters by insisting that trade agreements need more ‘international standards,’ not American standards, on labor and the environment.”

“It’s the exact opposite of what Dean told me when I rode with him in July on his campaign van in Iowa,” Mr. Suellentrop wrote on Sept. 4. “When I asked Dean if he meant just general ‘standards’ or ‘American standards,’ he insisted that he would demand that other countries adopt the exact same labor, environmental, health and safety standards as the United States.”

In other words, whether the country is dirt-poor Uganda or Colombia or Haiti or a poor-but-emerging economy like India, the standards — in Mr. Dean’s America — have to be the same.

According to government trade data from Commerce, Treasury and the U.S. International Trade Commission, “eliminating trade with non-industrialized nations that do not have labor and environmental standards comparable to those in the U.S. — essentially, every nation in the world other than the European Union, Japan, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand — would cut $429 billion in exports and $791 billion in imports … in lost trade revenues each year.”

During the go-go 1990s, exports accounted for more than 25 percent of all U.S. economic growth for most of the decade. Moreover, real wages rose. On average, jobs in export industries paid 15 percent more than those in non-export jobs.

The bottom line is that trade has been good for our economy. In his attempt to pander to organized labor for union support, Mr. Dean threatens to destroy all that with a new level of protectionism unknown since the Smoot-Hawley days (which increased tariffs to historical highs) of the Great Depression.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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