Benefit of trade pacts greatly overstated

Your editorial on pending trade agreements ("The benefits of trade," Oct. 6) reports projected benefits to the depressed U.S. economy from the proposed trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama of $12 billion in exports and tens of thousands of jobs. Though smaller than the 200,000 jobs and untold billions in exports to Canada and Mexico that NAFTA was expected to provide, the new projections are equally bogus.

In fact, America's trade deficit with Canada (which averaged a modest $8.1 billion in the four years preceding NAFTA) increased nearly nine-fold during the first 12 years under NAFTA, while the small trade surplus the U.S. ran with Mexico in 1993 turned into a $74 billion deficit by 2007. The Labor Department has since conceded that NAFTA cost the nation more than 500,000 jobs between 1994 and 2002, while the more credible Economic Policy Institute placed the figure at 766,000. There is little chance that the new trade deals will be any less disappointing, and it is misleading to report their projected benefits without reference to past disappointments. NAFTA has merely the largest of several.

Your assertion that "the program makes sense on its face" is supported only by the misconception that "increased trade is good in the aggregate." In truth, it can be good or bad and, since about 1970, has been increasingly bad for the U.S. economy.

Jim Case, Baltimore

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