July 27, 2009 | Commentary on Foreign Aid and Development

Open Markets, Improve Economy

It's no secret that our economy is hurting. Here in Washington, the response has been predictable: increase federal spending. Beginning last fall and continuing through the spring, Congress has been spending at a feverish pace, highlighted by two massively expensive "stimulus bills" with a combined price tag of almost $1 trillion.

Unfortunately, it's not working.

So what does Washington propose? More federal spending. Apparently many of our legislators are convinced that third time's the charm.

Instead of repeating what clearly isn't working, Congress and our president should strongly consider opening up our markets to jumpstart our economy.

The U.S. has been a leader for decades in increasing global trade. That's helped make our economy the envy of the world. Today, though, our country is trending more and more toward protectionism. Look no further than to the handful of stalled trade agreements as proof that many in Congress want to close our economy to others.

Just recently, protectionist House members inserted a provision in their thousand-plus page cap-and-trade bill imposing tariffs on any country that fails to curb carbon emissions during the next few years. And it was only a few months ago that Congress terminated funding for a very successful pilot program facilitating trade between our country and Mexico.

Besides being lousy economics, imposing tariffs while cutting money to increase trade with our trading partners is also poor diplomacy. Mexico is more than just our neighbor. It's also one of our biggest trading partners and an important ally and friend.

Meanwhile, Colombia has been waiting for years for us to approve a pending trade agreement with it. They've employed every possible means to rally support in our country, but so far to no avail. Instead of forging important ties between our friends to the south, it seems some members of Congress are more concerned about preaching the virtues of what they call "patriotism - but what is really "protectionism."

In an increasingly globalized economy, it makes little sense to erect barriers and prop up failed companies. As my colleague Ambassador Terry Miller wrote in a recent paper, "all the evidence points to free trade as propelling prosperity, not only for Americans at all income levels but for people around the world - especially the poor in developing countries. They have seen their prospects bloom as their nations were integrated into the world economy."

In other words, increasing trade to open up our markets creates jobs. While protectionist rhetoric may prove helpful in rallying political support - particularly among the powerful labor unions - it only hampers our country's ability to compete in a global economy. And at a time when our country is shedding more and more jobs, we desperately need to look to alternatives for the failed economic policies coming from Washington, D.C.

Let's hope that before our elected officials write out the next check with our hard-earned money for the next massively expensive "stimulus bill," they will consider expanding free trade first.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

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Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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First Appeared in El Diario La Prensa