WHEN DONALD TRUMP GAVE HIS FOREIGN POLICY SPEECH ON APRIL 27, 2016 I WAS PREPARED TO DISAGREE.
Forty-five minutes later, I found that I agreed with nearly everything Trump said about how the U.S. needed to rethink its approach to world trade.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, I was working as a journalist and considered by my peers an expert on international trade. In the 1970s, I covered international business for McGraw-Hill.
From 1976 to 1985, I was in charge of worldwide public relations for Sea-Land Service, the largest container ship operator in the world. I visited every major port in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Over the next 10 years, I was the editorial director, editor and then general manager of The Journal of Commerce, the most influential newspaper covering world trade in the United States. I have a letter from President Bill Clinton complimenting me for writing articles that he said helped pass the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Why did I support this agreement? At least 70 percent of all trade before 1990 was transported on ships going east-to-west and west-to-east. As Europe and Asia became economically stronger in the 1990s, they attempted not only to undermine the United States with trade agreements that went north-south, but also to cherry pick trade with Mexico, Canada and South America.
Japan is one of the largest investors in Brazil. NAFTA was the U.S. response to what Europe and Asia were doing north and south. With NAFTA, we consolidated our north-south trade in our hemisphere.
In the past 20 years, our major corporations and financial institutions realized they needed to consolidate and get bigger because they were not competing with other companies in other countries. They were competing with other countries.
General Motors was not competing with Toyota. It was and is competing with Japan Inc. Bank of America did not compete against Deutsche Bank. It was and is competing against Germany, Inc.
In addition, many other countries allow collusion and bribery. A U.S. company that colludes and bribes is fined and its executives go to jail.
Finally, our manufacturing base is being destroyed systematically by U.S. companies moving and creating plants abroad. From a consumer point of view, relocating manufacturing abroad is useful. The U.S. government reinforces this policy by putting huge tax burdens on U. S. companies if they bring profits back home.
Like Trump, I think we need to rethink how we do international trade, and we need to gradually rebuild our manufacturing base in this country. Although the U.S. still represents 25 percent of the gross domestic product in the world, most of our companies and financial institutions, domestic and multinational, cannot compete with countries. We now need to protect our companies just as other countries are protecting their companies.
The key element of Trump’s talk was his pronouncement that a nation-state, particularly our kind of nation-state, needs to be somewhat independent of other nation states. Letting a majority of other nation-states determine our survival is not in our best interests.
Whether Trump can do what he says is another question. Is he too simplistic, too autocratic? I don’t know.
But I think he is aiming his policy on international trade in the right direction.
Stanford Erickson lives in Vero Beach. He is a 35-year member of the National Press Club and has recently published “The Kind of Women Who Can Be President of the United States.” His website is www.StanfordErickson.com