Free trade never existed. Free trade is a myth that fuels political debate and drains the U.S. economy. In order for there to be real free (and fair) trade in the world, all nations must agree to certain ground rules.
During the past seventy-five years the United States has developed a set of rules for factories and workers, establishing a high standard of living, good environmental and occupational safety and health laws, minimum wages and maximum hours of work. We fought a devastating civil war to stop slavery. But all of our standards are being undermined by trading "freely" with nations that don't have a high regard for human rights, disregard the rights of children and scorn the rights of workers.
For example, we can't have free trade with a nation that has slave labor. Or child labor. Similarly, we can't have free trade with a nation that discriminates against the importation of American products. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade purports to be the international ground rules for free trade, but it is nothing of the kind. It not only allows child labor, but actually prohibits nations from banning the importation of goods made by ten-year-olds.
I have been called a protectionist for opposing unlimited free trade. We must protect the values that we have developed over the past 75 years and if this is protectionism, I wear that label with pride. However, I believe that we should trade with other nations, so long as t he trade is truly free. In order to have real free trade we must have free workers, not child laborers.
Henry Ford said that he paid his workers well so that they could afford to buy his cars. Similarly, we want foreign workers to be paid well so that they can afford to purchase quality American products.
Here is the Free Trade Bill of Rights, which should serve as a standard for other nations seeking to trade with the United States. As the world's leading manufacturer, and the only superpower, we should flex our muscles using access to the largest consumer market as leverage for making the playing field level.
§ Article One. Democracy. The right of the people to vote in elections for their representative government shall not be infringed. (Workers in totalitarian nations, like China, are not free workers.)
§ Article Two. Freedom of Speech and Assembly. The right of the people to speak freely and to assemble shall not be infringed. This article includes the right to advertise products for sale and to compare products in these advertisements. (Many countries, including Germany, prohibit certain comparative ads. China's clampdown on free speech and assembly in Hong Kong should not be tolerated.)
§ Article Three. Prohibition of Child Labor. Children under the age of 15 shall have the right to an education and be free from coerced labor. (There are 200 million children under the age of 15 "employed" around the world, in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brazil and many other nations. Many of these children are sold into slavery and chained to machines, or forced to work in mines.
§ Article Four. Prohibition of Slave Labor. No person shall be forced to work or sold into slavery. Prison labor shall be permitted; however, the export of goods made by prisoners shall be prohibited. (According to Harry Wu, China uses prison labor for exports, including political prisoners. Mr. Wu was a political prisoner in China for 19 years.)
§ Article Five. Trade Unions. Protected. Free and unfettered trade unions shall be protected to the fullest extent of the law. All persons shall be allowed to join the trade union of their choice and shall not be retaliated against for joining or for soliciting others to join or to form a trade union.
§ Article Six. Environmental Protection. Emissions from factories and agricultural chemicals shall be controlled to the maximum extent possible. The environmental laws of the United States shall be the international standard, but any nation shall be free to establish stricter standards. (Pesticides such as DDT, which is banned in the United States, are now imported on Mexican tomatoes.)
§ Article Seven. Worker Safety and Health. The safety and health of workers shall be protected to the maximum extent possible. The occupations, safety and health laws of the United States shall be the international standard, but any nation shall be free to establish stricter standards. (Hundreds if not thousands of workers have died in substandard factories in Bangladesh making clothing for Americans.)
§ Article Eight. Minimum Wages and Maximum Hours. Factory, mining and agricultural workers, whose products are exported, shall be entitled to reasonable wages, in no event less than one-fourth of the hourly minimum wage in the United States. (This means that manufacturing wages will rise in the Third World to $1.80 per hour or more, giving those workers the ability to buy their own products and American products. Now workers in Nike plants in Indonesia and Vietnam are paid pennies per hour and cannot afford to buy the shoes they make.)
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