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Buy America: Good Policy, Not Protectionism

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By James Parks

Despite the claims of its critics, the Buy America provisions in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is not protectionism, but a reasonable and legal response to the failure of global economic policies to benefit U.S. workers, writes Robert Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council.

In an article in the April 10, 2010, edition of the journal “One Issue, Two Voices,” Baugh argues that unregulated free market and so-called free trade policies have cost millions of U.S. jobs, destroyed communities and undermined the nation’s manufacturing base. Since 1998, the United States lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs—more than 6 million in all.

In “Economic Reality and Alarmist Rhetoric: Getting Real About America,” Baugh says it’s time to drop the hype that everybody wins in free trade and face the reality that current trade policy has become a vehicle to send good jobs offshore.

The United States cannot continue to run trade deficits with the rest of the world and, in the process, destroy its own manufacturing base. There must be a rebalancing, and that requires a vibrant American manufacturing sector producing goods for a domestic and world market.

William Robson, president of the C.D. Howe Institute, takes an opposing view in the journal. Baugh and Robson will square off in a panel discussion May 4 at noon in room B-388 of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. To reserve a seat, send an e-mail to

Baugh also points out that many U.S. trading partners, like Canada, China and several European countries, have policies that prevent foreign products from coming in to their country.

To build a strong economy for the future, Baugh says, the United States must create family-supporting, green jobs—and those jobs need to stay in this country.

He concludes by saying:

The obsession with American protectionism serves as nothing more than a diversion from the real questions that need to be answered. Our workers and communities deserve less rhetoric, more respect, and real answers.

“One Issue, Two Voices” is published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


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