Our Editorial: Free trade best for Michigan

The Detroit News

The presidential campaign’s focus on trade and other industrial policies that affect America’s manufacturing power is a benefit to Michigan. The state has wrestled with failed policies, industrial collapse and economic stagnation more than most, and those issues rightly matter to voters here.

But two leading candidates — Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and Republican Donald Trump — as well as some of their opponents are advocating so-called fair trade over free trade, a protectionist philosophy that would start trade wars, ultimately kill jobs and further ruin the U.S. economy.

The candidates are pitching tariffs on goods from countries like China and Mexico as a remedy to job and income loss in the United States. In Sunday’s Democratic debate in Flint, Clinton, prodded by her rival, Sen Bernie Sanders, backed away from her previous support of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which stands to open the U.S. to trade with 11 other countries in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Trump has also railed against that pact.

But tariffs, taxes and the fight against free trade would raise prices across the board on consumer goods, without boosting employment or incomes.

The retaliatory tariffs China and other countries would impose would greatly harm currently thriving industries in America, and specifically in Michigan.

U.S. exports to China hit a record $120.8 billion last summer, and China is Michigan’s third-largest export market after Canada and Mexico. Almost $3.5 billion of goods were exported there last year, particularly transportation equipment, chemicals, machinery and computer and electronic products, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Michigan's exports to China over the past 15 years have grown 1,500 percent.

Trump reportedly said in a New York Time’s editorial board meeting that he would place a 45 percent tariff on all goods coming from China. That’s an absurd proposal that would send the economy tumbling.

While trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have had a detrimental impact on certain regions of the country, overall it has been a positive. More than 12 million American jobs depend on the enhanced trade with Mexico and Canada, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As for the TPP, its passage is vital to maintaining America’s influence in a region where China is increasingly asserting itself.

It has always been easy to whip up anti-trade fervor when voters are uneasy about their economic futures. But the protectionist policies being discussed on the campaign trail risk throwing America into recession.

As a manufacturing state heavily dependent on the export of goods, Michigan can’t afford measures that choke off trade.