Up until Donald Trump’s election it looked like the trade wars were largely over. Policymakers in both parties seemed to have accepted full integration of the United States into the global economy was both a good and a goal.
Trump turned that on its head. He built his Electoral College majority on the resentment of folks who believed free trade and global commerce helped create jobs for other people in other places while leaving them behind.
It’s a powerful message that’s starting to resonate in Congress. Even Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means and an advocate for economic growth, seems to be getting on board with the need for trade policy reform.
“America has led the world in global commerce for the better part of the last 100 years. Through our network of strong, enforceable trade agreements, we have expanded economic freedom so that our businesses, workers, and consumers can thrive,” he said Thursday while welcoming U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to testify before his committee on the president’s trade agenda.
“Our trade agreements, including NAFTA, have been tremendously successful. They have created American jobs, lowered prices for consumers, and helped our businesses compete and win in all three crucial sectors of our economy — agriculture, services, and, yes, manufacturing,” Brady acknowledged while at the same time praising President Trump’s decision to reopen discussions with Canada and Mexico on the now 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
Brady told Amb. Lighthizer that NAFTA “should be updated to reflect the modern realities of trade on digital commerce, intellectual property, state-owned enterprises, and customs barriers, among others” in line with the trade promotion authority Congress has already given the president. Despite these very real concerns however, the news is not all bad.
Against the backdrop of the president’s resetting the table on trade policy, the Association for Global Automakers has launched a campaign to the benefits of free trade to American workers and consumers including job creation, encouraging competition, and making goods available at prices lower than what they might otherwise be.
The AGA’s “Here for America” campaign has been around for about a year, telling the story of international automakers and their American-owned and operated dealerships, their growing impact on the U.S. economy, and the benefits they bring to local communities. It may seem incongruous but Japanese, German and Korean automakers (Toyota, Volkswagen, Kia, Honda, Subaru, Nissan, and Hyundai) are now up on the air with a television spot echoing Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign’s iconic “Morning in America” ad. Its target is President Trump and it’s intended to remind him of the importance of manufacturing still going on inside the United States.
“Americans are building more cars today than ever before, and we’re a major part of that story,” John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers and spokesman for Here for America said. “It’s time to highlight the 130,000 Americans working for international automakers.”
This is the first time so many auto manufacturers have banded together for one advertising campaign, the association says. The effort is turning a few heads. Reagan biographer Craig Shirley called the ad “a rip-off.” Indeed for some the idea of foreign car companies paying homage to Reagan — who once imposed quotas and tariffs on Japanese automakers in the 1980s — is startling. Shortly after he took office the Reagan Administration asked Japanese automakers to impose a “voluntary export restraint” capping U.S. imports at 1.7 million.
Prices went through the roof back then but they’re not holding a grudge. Many of these same companies — because they’ve built plants and made other major investments — are now the industrial anchors of prosperous communities all over the United States.
Sal Russo, former Reagan campaign staffer, calls the ad a magnanimous tribute to “the great communicator.” Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there are many parallels between the political environments of 1983 and today. That the same companies that waged cutthroat competition for over 30 years came together to message the American President on the value of U.S. manufacturing jobs is an irony no one should overlook.
“This campaign is about the American men and women who depend on global manufacturers to support their families,” said John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers. “As critical policies are negotiated, it is important to recognize that today’s U.S. auto industry consists of a diverse group of manufacturers.”
The world’s largest auto manufacturers are showing that they’re powering the American economy just like their Detroit counterparts. International automakers have helped bring prosperity to cities throughout the country through their 32 manufacturing facilities spread out over 14 states. If that’s not “America First,” what is?
There’s a misconception that American manufacturing has seen the last of its glory days, with work sent abroad in favor of cheap parts and cheaper labor. This is not your grandfather’s auto industry. There are now 13 global auto companies manufacturing over half of the cars made in the U.S. — one million more cars per year than were made in 1993 — well before NAFTA became law.