As reprehensible as some aspects of Chinese rule are to American human-rights and democratic ideals, Congress was absolutely correct to normalize trade relations with the People's Republic. U.S. businesses, U.S. consumers and, yes, over time, even Chinese citizens, will benefit. To be certain, pockets of American manufacturing will suffer as a result. Some U.S. production will shift to China and less-expensive Chinese imports will find their way to these shores. Outraged union leaders will raise a holy racket — just as they did after implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But that always will be the case. Times and technology change, and we must change with them. Fighting to maintain the status quo is not a viable option. The measure of such landmark trade legislation is not in the fates of a handful of select, individual factories, but in the larger economic equation.
Globalization, though it misguidedly has attained a Satanic connotation among certain parts of the population, is today's reality, hastened by mind-boggling technological advances best symbolized by the Internet. It is fruitless to try to hold back the tide of globalization; instead we must do our best to adapt to it and to marshal the resources to turn the tide to our benefit.
We argued in this column six years ago that the American government's annual review of "most-favored nation" trade status for China was a lousy, ineffectual tool with which to try to force change among that country's Communist leaders. "That is because," we wrote then, "enacting the threat would hurt the United States as much as it would hurt China, and the Chinese know that all too well. It is akin to carrying a big stick, and smacking yourself with it every time you also hit the subject of your threat."
China's inevitable entry, probably by year's end, into the World Trade Organization as a result of Congress' May 25 trade-status vote, means that country will become subject to the WTO's tough trade rules. The WTO's tribunal will have significantly more clout to enforce sanctions for such offenses as stealing business secrets than the U.S. government on its own ever did.
WTO entry also should, over time, lessen the lucrative incentives that spur illegal "gray market" trade of highly taxed high-technology and consumer goods in China, which in turn should benefit Western manufacturers and Chinese consumers alike.
Meantime, U.S.-China trade — including in some key plastics-relevant sectors — should flourish, helping to lower U.S. consumer prices and to create jobs on American soil.
Meanwhile, the success of NAFTA, and the logic — both economic and ideological — of trading freely with China underscores the ludicrousness of one hopelessly outdated U.S. trade policy: its economic embargo of Cuba. If, as Congress believes, free trade and increased capitalism will help to undermine China's Communist underpinnings and aid the U.S. economy, how can the same not be said for the tiny Communist island off Florida's coast?
Cuba angers many by boldly daring to snub its nose at the United States in America's own back yard, and does not offer the redeeming quality of 1.2 billion potential consumers.
Still, it is time get over our hemispheric hangups. Congress is right to open the door to China; it is time to apply U.S. trade policy consistently and do the same with Cuba.