Thanks to Wi-Fi, I’m writing this from 37,000 feet in the air on my way back from a Southwest Airlines celebration in Mexico City commemorating the airline’s one-year anniversary for international travel. It is so gratifying to see the ties between our nations deepen. Thank you, Southwest, for inviting me and my colleague from the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce to take part in this special occasion.
Southwest’s foray into Mexico is about increased tourism between the U.S. and Mexico and stronger trade ties, as well. Now business travelers have a new option for cross-border air travel.
Mentors in trade
My first political posting in Arizona was with former Tucson-area congressman Jim Kolbe in 1992. It was a fellowship (he says internship) and a small part of the focus of my time was to help with some of the work the congressman was doing on NAFTA.
Later in my career I had the privilege to work for Congressman Matt Salmon. Another free trader, Rep. Salmon worked hard on PNTR – Permanent Normal Trade Relations – and other policies to open international markets to American consumers and manufacturers.
Yes, not everyone wins consistently with trade. We must do everything possible to make sure that support is provided for those communities that are particularly hard hit.
But the world becomes safer and more prosperous with trade.
The path to prosperity through NAFTA
Look at NAFTA. U.S. trade under with our neighbors has more than tripled. Over 100,000 Arizona jobs rely on trade with Mexico alone. Mexican tourists spend over $7 million a day in Arizona. Exports from Arizona are on the rise.
Our other partner, Canada, is the largest trading partner of the U.S. and a major source of foreign direct investment for Arizona. Many major companies in Arizona now have Canadian parents. To underscore our norther neighbor’s importance to Arizona’s bottom line, Gov. Doug Ducey will lead a trade delegation to Toronto and Montreal next month. (I’ll be on the trip, helping to amplify the governor’s message that Arizona is one of America’s best places to invest.)
While trade brings tremendous prosperity, a trade war could wreak devastation on the American economy. It can’t be repeated enough that Smoot-Hawley sparked a trade war that triggered a depression.
A dispiriting presidential campaign, but still champions on Capitol Hill
For those who love trade, this presidential campaign has been a disaster. But, here’s the good news: There remains a core of Republicans and Democrats in Congress committed to free trade. Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, won his primary with 84 percent of the vote against an anti-trade extremist. Closer to home, Sen. John McCain easily won his primary without adjusting his views on trade.
The business community and the moral case for trade
It will be up to the business community to rebuild public support for free trade after the election.
Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. We can’t reach those customers without trade. And most Americans understand trade’s power, with 58 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll saying that trade presents our country with more opportunities than threats.
We will need to channel the late Milton Friedman in order to overcome the anti-trade noise. In the early 1980s, he led an effective effort to make the moral case for trade at a time of deepening protectionism. “I would argue that the social and moral issues are all on the side of free trade,” he said.
Friedman made the strong case that protectionists in the labor movement of the time, who claimed to support workers, were actually doing workers harm by advocating for higher tariffs that made manufactured goods more expensive and less competitive abroad, which eventually led to job losses here at home. “Which union represents them?” he asked.
If we fail, the country really could go down the tubes.